14 New Laws that Utah COUNTIES Need to Know About

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Key takeaways from the 2023 Utah Legislative Session

State elected officials adjourned March 3, ending this year’s legislative session. They left behind several new laws that directly impact how local government leaders do their jobs. 

Some of these new laws affect counties in minor ways—like changing a technicality about how counties report water use to the state. The effects of others are not so minor.

Here are fourteen of these new laws that we think you should know about right away.

NOTE: This list covers only a small fraction of the laws passed this session affecting county administration in Utah. You can peruse the full list here.

1. Tax Assessment Amendments

Bill: HB 0056 | Taxes

This bill requires a county assessor to provide certain assessment data to the state tax commission by Match 31 each year. This is in addition to current reporting requirements. 

2. Local Land Use and Development Revisions

Bill: SB 0174 | Housing, Land Use

Starting in February 2024, this bill imposes a $250 daily fine on counties that do not have a state-compliant moderate-income housing report and report progress to the state on time. This fine increases to $500/day in 2025 and will continue to accrue until both the county is compliant and all fees are paid.

This bill also regulates internal ADUs more tightly by:

  • Defining when a garage may be considered an internal ADU, 
  • Requiring that local government regulations for the architecture of internal ADUs be consistent with that of single-family units, 
  • Requiring an additional (to local regulations) parking space for internal ADUs if the primary dwelling is not already required to have four or more, and
  • Prohibiting local governments from banning newly constructed internal ADUs that conform to other land use regulations and have a final plat approval dated on or after October 1, 2021.

Finally, this bill reworks the technicalities of the subdivision plat review and approval process, though these changes will not take effect until early 2024.

3. Land Use, Development, and Management Act Modifications

Bill: HB 0406 | Land Use, Annexation, Development Agreements, Moratoriums

Covering a range of land-use topics, this bill:

  • Gives local governments the ability to leave unincorporated islands/peninsulas when annexing as long as those islands/peninsulas existed previously and the annexation reduces their size;
  • Adds to the definition of “rural real property”; 
  • Upon receiving a protest from an affected entity against annexation, requires the Boundary Commission to weigh the interests of both sides; 
  • Defines “residential roadway” for annexation purposes; 
  • Authorizes owners of rural real property to include their property in an annexation by signing the petition as well as by giving other written consent; 
  • Defines “residential roadway” for annexation purposes; 
  • States that “subdivision amendment” does not include a lot line adjustment, between a single lot and an adjoining lot or parcel, that alters the outside boundary of the subdivision;
  • Reduces the permitted length of moratoriums to 180 days (not six months) and prohibits local governments from using a moratorium to block a land use application if that application is already blocked by a proceeding to amend local ordinances (though the application must be approved after 180 days if no law is passed);
  • Prohibits local governments from using a moratorium to block a land use application if applications like it have been blocked by moratoriums over the past 12 months (can’t use a string of moratoriums in place of amending the ordinance);
  • Imposes restrictions on how much residential road a local government can require a developer to build; 
  • Voids local government rights in development agreements that are not disclosed by the local governments to the developer; 
  • Restricts what landscape-related completion assurances local governments can require of developers and requires that those completion assurances be memorialized in a development agreement.

4. Public Notice Requirements

Bill: SB 0043 | General Plans, Public Meetings

This bill generally increases notice requirements applicable to local governments. It also makes notice requirements uniform throughout state code by defining them as “class A” or “class B.”

5. Airport Land Use Amendments

Bill: HB 0206 | Land Use

This bill:

  • Requires local governments with land used (or intended) for airports to adopt an airport overlay zone and regulate the area within 5,000 ft. of airport runways; 
  • Authorizes local governments to condition building permits in those areas on the sale of avigation easements; and
  • Sets default regulations if local governments don’t adopt their own overlay zones before December 31, 2024.

6. Sentinel Landscape Amendments

Bill: HB 0265 | Land Use

This bill requires local governments within 5,000 ft. of military facilities to develop a compatible use plan for the surrounding land and notify the military facility of any land use applications in that area. It then gives the military facility veto power over those land use applications.

7. Election Modifications

Bill: HB 0069 | Elections

This bill lowers the ballot-collection burden borne by county clerks by authorizing municipal clerks to collect ballots as well. But it also requires counties to publish notice of elections five days before they occur (increased from two days) and changes ballot requirements for local government initiatives and elections.

8. Housing Affordability Amendments

Bill: HB 0364 | General Plans, Grants

Similarly to SB 0174, this bill: 

  • Requires counties with a population that grows past 5,000 in unincorporated areas to add a moderate-income housing element into their general plan before August 1 of the next calendar year;
  • Requires counties that are required to add a moderate-income housing element into their general plan because of population growth to submit a copy to the association of governments of which the county is a part; 
  • Requires local governments to submit annual reports to the state (due August 1) tracking their progress on their moderate-income housing goals; 
  • Permits local governments to appeal to an appeals board the state’s determination that they are noncompliant with this requirement; 
  • Requires planning commissions to recommend a five-year timeline for implementing their moderate-income housing goals and to use the exact language provided in state code when doing so.

19. Disaster Amendments

Bill: SB 0033 | Grants

This bill authorizes local governments to receive disaster relief funding for emergencies declared by the county. This gives elected officials in the community more power to deal with local disasters and crises.

10. Public Employee Disability Benefits Amendments

Bill: HB 0105 | Employee Compensation/Retirement

This bill makes public employees eligible for mental disability pay (just like pay for physical disabilities).

11. Water-Efficient Landscaping Incentives

Bill: SB 0118 | Water

This bill requires local governments to report to the Division of Water Resources ordinances, resolutions, and policies that affect regional-based water efficiency standards established by the Division. It also permits water conservancy districts to obtain grants and use them to provide incentives for water conservation and establishes conditions for those grants. This helps communities do their part in averting dangerous drought impacts in the future.

12. Transient Room Tax Amendments

Bill: HB 0416 | Housing

This bill repeals the Transient Room Tax program and reporting requirement. If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry about it (not all counties participated in the program). If your administration participated in it, know that you can no longer collect extra taxes on short-term rentals via this program.

13. Initiative and Referendum Modifications

Bill: HB 0038 | Public Meetings, Voting

This bill refines definitions for “referendum petition,” “initiative petition,” “initiative application,” and “referendum application.” It also:

  • For statewide initiative petitions, requires the county election officer to provide notice of public hearings held in the county;  
  • Prohibits people from signing their names more than once on initiative petitions, signing if the “date signed” is wrong, signing someone else’s name, or accepting or offering bribes to change their vote;
  • When collected manually, requires sponsors of local referendums to sign an agreement with the local clerk about how referendum packets will be numbered;
  • Gives residents an option to ask a court to reverse a local clerk’s determination that a referendum petition is insufficient if done within 10 days; and
  • Modifies public notice requirements generally for public hearings relating to initiative packets.

14. Open and Public Meetings Act Amendments

Bill: HB 0021 | Public Meetings 

This bill requires local school boards to adopt a written policy before July 1, 2023 that gives the public an opportunity to provide verbal and written comments related to the authority of the school board in all its public meetings that are not work sessions or emergency meetings. It also waives the requirement to have an anchor location for electronic meetings for local district boards of trustees and special service district administrative control boards if those boards contain landowners, provide a way for participants to participate in the meeting online, and publish instructions for doing so on the public notice announcement.

If This Is News to You… 

Then you might need to ask a professional to write you a memo outlining which of the 100+ local government bills from this session you need to know about—and how to make your administration compliant with the State.

Call Rural Community Consultants today to get expert planning and ordinance advice to make your community the best it can be. 

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Check out our online training modules! Note: We are able to provide access to specific training modules free of charge, courtesy of the Utah Office of the Property Rights Ombudsman.

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