Utah Senate President Stuart Adams discusses upcoming session

'I mainly try to set the tone. We've got the best economy in the nation, and we believe Utah is the best managed state,' Adams said

SALT LAKE CITY – The 2024 session of the Legislature commences on Jan. 16, 2024, providing lawmakers with a window until March 1 to pass new legislation for the year. In anticipation of the upcoming session, Senate President Stuart Adams spoke with TownLift to discuss the Senate’s priorities and goals for the session.

Adams has been a part of the legislative body since 2002, commencing his career in the State House of Representatives. In 2009, he transitioned to the Senate, where he now represents the 7th district.

One of his key duties as Senate president, as described by Adams, involves deciding the Senate’s course and direction.

“As the Senate president, I get to deal with the 28 other senators and the 103 other lawmakers. It’s an honor to serve, and to set the tone in the Senate. At times I think I have some of the best ideas — I’ll hope no one is offended by that,” Adams said jokingly.

“I mainly try to set the tone. We’ve got the best economy in the nation, and we believe Utah is the best managed state.”

This viewpoint was illustrated by Adams through the emphasis on specific aspects of the previous year’s legislative session, particularly the Legislature’s decision to reduce taxes.

“We have such a strong economy because we believe in limited government, free markets, and our regulatory processes, and our tax policies are so strong in Utah,” he said.

“We had record revenues last year, and with those record revenues we lowered taxes for the third year in a row. That’s pretty amazing to have a three-year record of cutting taxes. Anybody can cut taxes if they just want to cut taxes, but we actually funded education and other services at record levels.”

Adams was referencing the 13% increase in weighted pupil unit (WPU) funding, as well as the $6,000 salary increase for public school teachers.

In addition to increasing funding for a host of services, the state Legislature also passed several controversial bills in last years session, including H.B. 215 that established the Utah Fits all Scholarship, which created school choice in the state in addition to the $6,000 raise for teachers. The legislature also enacted H.B. 374, the Sensitive Materials in School Act, which prohibits certain sensitive materials in schools throughout the state.

Adams shared his thoughts on H.B. 374, which is currently in committee for possible amendments.

“We’re a reflection of our constituency. We had parents come to us concerned about books and schools,” he said. “Generally speaking, I think the school board should deal with the issue, and yet they weren’t dealing with the issue. So we actually passed a bill that gave direction for them to put together committees to be able to look at books to find out if they ought to be in the libraries or not, and the local school district that I’m involved in, they were upset at us about passing the bill at the very beginning.”

“After a year or so I was on the phone with one of the members of the school board, she indicated that they actually had pulled off some number of books off the shelf, and I asked her why she pulled them off the shelf. She said that they were pornographic, books I wouldn’t have my kids or grandkids read.”

Adams believes that legislative action was needed to prompt school districts into prohibiting explicit material from student access.

“Legislative action was challenging, but it took legislative action for you to look at it now. I believe that school boards had to do it but they weren’t doing it. And I think that it’s something we did as a reflection of our constituency that asked us to do that.”

As to why H.B. 374 is currently being reviewed for possible amendments following a tumultuous year where a school district banned a version of the Bible, Adams said that bills are constantly amended or revised.

“We passed 500 bills last legislative session. A good majority of them were unanimous. And the reason they’re unanimous is they’re they’re usually tweaks or improvements on the statute things we passed in the past that we’re trying to make right,” he said. “It’s like any other business or any other part of life. You make decisions. You execute the decision you make, and you find that the decision needed to be changed slightly. And you make that improvement. That’s what we do. We continually try to be better.”

Looking forward to the 2024 legislative session, Adams is hoping to pass legislation related to water conservation and to combat rising interest rates and energy prices.

“Even though we had a great water year last year, we’re gonna continue to focus on water. Water is a big issue,” he said. “We need to maintain the effort we’ve had for conservation. We need to look at development, we need to look at all aspects of water and how best to maintain that precious natural resource that we have.”

Adams is also hoping to reduce interest rates in the state, which he believes are closely intertwined with the cost of energy and gas.

“I also have a fairly strong belief that high interest rates right now are a factor of a couple of things; one is the amount of money in our money supply, which is government spending on the federal level. But more importantly than that, I believe that they’re a reflection of the 1990s, as oil prices spiked because of an oil embargo by the Arabs. Severe increases in oil prices caused inflation which caused high interest rates.”

“If we want to get interest rates down, if we want to make sure that we don’t destroy a great economy, we need to lower energy prices, and so we’re going to find a way to deal with energy prices,” he said.

To do this, Adams suggests the legislature looks at implementing more renewable energy sources in the state.

“We’re going to look at renewables. We’re going to look at the move to electric cars, we’re going to make the move to renewable options to solar panels to everything else. But when we’ve moved too fast, and we’ve caused gas prices to go up, sometimes close to $5 a gallon,” he said, “we need to make sure that we maybe slow down that pressure and allow oil and gas prices to come down — and I’m going to try to find a way to push energy policies that make sure that Utah has the lowest energy prices in the nation.”

In addition, Adams is also planning to focus on creating more readily available affordable housing.

“Last year I ran a bill that actually focused on first homebuyers, and in the past, we’ve been talking about deeply affordable housing and I have lots of ideas and that will be very big part of our legislative session this year. If we don’t get that first homebuyer into their home, we’re gonna lose what I believe is the American dream and the reason it’s the American Dream is most people have their most of their financial equity residing in their home.”

“We appropriated $50 million for people to be able to use $20,000 of that for either a down payment to buy rates down or to be able to pay closing costs. It has to be paid back when they sell their home. We don’t want to give money away. We don’t believe in that, but we believe that we can help facilitate that. It’s been wildly successful, almost 500 people have either applied for or actually qualified for the program.”

“We’re not going to stop, we’re going to continue to try to facilitate homeownership.”

In terms of legislation directed towards education, Adams believes that the legislature will continue to find ways to increase wages for teachers and school employees.

“I think you’re gonna see us continue to focus on on teacher salaries, trying to make sure that we pay our teachers and  show appreciation for their great work on education issues that help kids.”

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