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Utah House Minority Leader Brian King on Compromise, COVID and Police Reform

A man in a gray suit, purple tie and badge with purple lanyard stands in front of a microphone.
“It's the vigorous interaction of opposing ideas and the resulting compromise … that's what Utahns want to see,” Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said of the role that Democrats should play in the Utah Legislature.

From the COVID-19 pandemic to police reform and firearm issues, Utah state lawmakers have a lot on their plates this Legislative session.

KUER’s Sonja Hutson spoke with House Minority Leader Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, about what to expect as they reconvene next week.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Sonja Hutson: What are the Democrats top three priorities for the upcoming legislative session?

Brian King: COVID is obviously huge. This is a double-tracked attack that we're looking at here. We want to, first of all, make sure that we reduce the spread immediately and that we behave responsibly in terms of masking, social distancing, small groups. The second track is the vaccination track. I'm happy to see Gov. [Spencer] Cox come out unequivocally and say we need to get vaccinations in people as quickly as possible, and he's working hard to make sure that that happens.

The second big thing that we need to deal with are budget issues. There are a lot of ways in which we can assist those who are struggling with homelessness issues or with rent eviction issues because of COVID. I think that we need to, from a budgetary perspective, address some of those needs as quickly and efficiently as possible.

If you ask me to identify a third issue, I'd say healthcare — ensuring that communities who are most vulnerable and have been most hard hit get the resources that they need. Those are three things. There are a lot of things on the list.

SH: We had a lot of Black Lives Matter protests over the summer that have translated into several police reform bills. Which of those bills do you think is most important?

BK: Rep. [Angela] Romero [D-Salt Lake City] has put together bills mandating that police officers — safety officers — get trained in crisis de-escalation techniques. I think that's an important bill. There are bills that deal with the need for a public database for individuals who have been disciplined for excessive force allegations and other misconduct as police officers. That would make sure that individuals who are in a position to consider hiring police officers across the state have access to their disciplinary history as police officers.

There are a lot of bills, some of them we want to push back on. I think there are some bad bills being run. I’m concerned about HB 60, which is an elimination of the concealed carry permit requirements. That's not a law enforcement bill, per se, but it is a gun safety bill.

Another gun safety bill that's an important bill that we're running is the expansion of universal background checks. I think there’ll be a lot of attention in this area. I think it's good with the events that we've seen in the last year, including just the events of last week at the U.S. Capitol. People are more sensitized to concerns about our whole society being awash in guns from anybody who wants to own a gun.

SH: I want to get a little philosophical now, if you're OK with that. As the leader of the House Democrats, what is the most important role of the party in the legislature? Do you think it should be more geared towards the strategy that former state senator and [former] Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis used: being a loud, outspoken foil to Republicans? Or is the best strategy to calm down the rhetoric a bit and work with Republicans to pass some bills when you can? Or is it a combination of the two?

BK: It's definitely a combination of the two. You've got to have people who are willing to stand up and speak for Utahns. There's no doubt about that. We as Utahns need to know that there are two parties, that they are viable, that they are robust.

It's the vigorous interaction of opposing ideas and the resulting compromise — but not necessarily compromise in a negative sense, in the sense that it's diluted or watered down — but a synthesized product of the conflict of the two ideas that is actually better than either one of them alone. That's what Utahns want to see. That's what people across this country want to see. That's what I want to see.

It requires exactly what you said before. I mean the Jim Dabakis approach of calling Republicans out when they're behaving badly or when they really have a poor policy position is essential. It's essential. If you don't do that, you're not doing your job as a legislator with a “D” behind his or her name.

On the other hand, if you're contentious and if you're cantankerous and if you're oppositional at all times, you're also not going to be doing your job. Because people in the state of Utah want legislation passed that is going to help them in the future. And they don't want it done just in a partisan way.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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