ST. GEORGE — Should Utah retire its state flag and adopt a fresher, more appealing design? Or should it at least designate a temporary state flag that commemorates the state’s 125th anniversary?
Those are the questions that came before lawmakers in the Utah state Legislature this week in the form of Senate Bill 48, sponsored by Sen. Daniel McCay (R-Riverton).
The initial version of the bill, which McCay talked about Monday during its second reading in the state Senate, would set up a task force to study the issue of whether to change Utah’s state flag.
However, on Friday, as the bill came up for its third reading, McCay put forth a substitute version of the bill that directs a commemorative state flag design to be implemented, at least during the remainder of the 2021 calendar year, to celebrate Utah’s 125 years of statehood since 1896.
The design described in the bill, which is also shown in the photos accompanying this story, is the main one featured among several options depicted on the newutahflag.org website, which is operated by the non-profit Organization for a New Utah Flag.
Friday afternoon, SB48 passed in the Senate by a vote of 24-4. Southern Utah senators were split on the issue, with Sen. Evan Vickers voting in favor of the measure and Sen. Don Ipson voting against. The bill will next advance to the state House, where Rep. Stephen Handy will be its floor sponsor.
The creation of a state flag task force remains part of the proposed legislation. If it passes, the appointees on the task force will have until November to come up with their recommendations, in time for them to be considered by the 2022 Legislature.
During a 15-minute presentation made in the Senate on Monday, McCay had addressed Utah’s current flag, which like those of approximately 20 other states, simply consists of the state seal on a blue background.
McCay said Utah’s flag ranked 36th among the 50 states in a poll conducted among flag lovers by the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA).
“This isn’t the Utah I know and love,” McCay said. “We’re distinctive, we’re unique. And I believe that our flag ought to reflect that.”
McCay then showed a slide of Utah’s flag positioned next to the other three states in the Four Corners area – Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona – all of which have highly distinctive flags.
He also cited California and Texas as being prime examples of states with popular and widely recognized flag designs.
Fellow Sen. Jake Anderegg agreed, saying, “If you look at the California flag, that bear. How many of you now see hats with just the bear on it, or shirts just with the bear on it, and you know, instantaneously they’re from California? It’s one of the best marketing things they’ve ever done.”
“I can’t imagine something that actually has more meaning to who we are as a state than the flag,” Anderegg said. “We’re not talking about changing the flag; we’re talking about having a discussion to make it better. We’re not suggesting we do away with the state flag; we’re talking about a marketing tool. You know, I’ve served on the international trade relations committee now for six years. And the reality is: you can’t pick our flag out from anything.”
“Wouldn’t it be good to have a better brand for the state of Utah, something we could market worldwide?” Anderegg added.
McCay stressed that there’s no intention to change or do away with the state seal itself, which is depicted on the current flag.
“If you look at the flag up close and look at the state seal up close, it’s spectacular,” McCay said Monday. “It looks great on a letterhead, it looks great on a document that is going to be close to your face. On a business card, it looks great.”
“Where it doesn’t look great, and where the detail is lost, is when it is flying on a flagpole,” he added. “That is one of the reasons why the Utah flag – and I checked with an international distributor of flags – is one of the lowest-selling flags in the country.”
The proposed commemorative state flag, as described in section 63G-1-502 of SB48, features the beehive symbol in the middle of a blue circle outlined in gold, with a star beneath it signifying Utah’s joining the U.S. as the 45th state. The red diagonal quadrant at the bottom signifies the red rocks of Southern Utah, the white diagonals on either side represent snow, and the blue on top symbolizes the Great Salt Lake. The Native American tribes of Utah are also symbolized by the design elements, as is Utah’s designation as the “Crossroads of the West.”
To read the full text of the bill, which even specifies the exact color tones of the proposed commemorative flag, click here.
In addition to designating the commemorative state flag to be flown in 2021, SB48 also establishes NAVA flag design guidelines and principles to follow and provides a means for making appointments to the task force commission, along with deadlines to be met.
McCay explained that future legislation would be needed to adopt any new flag and/or to retire the current flag and designate it as the state’s “historic” flag.
The Legislature could also still ultimately decide to just keep Utah’s current flag “as is” and not consider any commemorative options. A few lawmakers went on record saying they were not on board with the idea of changing the flag.
“I don’t see a reason to spend the time to really have a task force and try to change something that is really serving the state well,” Sen. Gene Davis said Monday.
“There was another possibility, rather than fear of change or fear of being taken for a ride,” Sen. Derrin Owens said Friday as he referenced McCay’s earlier comments. “And that is, we just like the flag the way it is.”
McCay acknowledged that there are some who would just as soon leave well enough alone and keep the current flag. He was once among that group himself, he admitted.
“I was in this pool as well,” he said Friday. “But I say, give the task force an opportunity to design, give the public an opportunity to give input. And once we receive that input and once we receive those characters and principles, and we design a flag, then we will be back in this situation as a state Senate as a state Legislature to make a decision about how and if we want to adopt that flag. That’s all you’re risking here, is just the opportunity to see what the design might look like.”
McCay also said he hopes Utahns will recognize the importance of the issue, and not simply regard it as a waste of time.
“My response to those who think we have something better to do is: if we had a great flag and a banner for the people to rally under, it would help us during those important times during work when we’re working on difficult issues,” McCay said.
For a complete list of contacts for Southern Utah representatives and senators, click here.
Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2021 Utah Legislature here.
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