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Gov. Spencer Cox on booster shots, tax breaks and racism in schools

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks with media during the PBS Utah Governor’s Monthly News Conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021.
Kristin Murphy
Deseret News
Gov. Spencer Cox held his monthly PBS Utah press conference Thursday.

During his monthly PBS Utah press conference, Gov. Spencer Cox weighed in on several issues the state is facing, including COVID-19 vaccines, tax breaks and racism in schools.

Booster shots

All Utahns over the age of 18 will be eligible for COVID-19 booster shots starting Nov. 19, Cox announced at the press conference.

He said the current CDC guidance on boosters is “so confusing that no one knows if they qualify. And so we just want to make it very simple, especially as we're heading into the holiday season.”

Cox acknowledged how severe the COVID-19 situation was in the state, noting that most counties are categorized as high transmission by the CDC.

Additionally, about the same number of people are hospitalized for COVID-19 in Utah as there were during the peak of last year’s winter surge. State data show nearly 97% of all ICU beds are occupied as well.

Why Cox signed a vaccine mandate exemption bill

Cox promised in September that he would veto any bill that banned businesses from issuing vaccine mandates.

“I'm a huge believer in free markets,” he said in September. “A mandate not to allow businesses to have mandates, is a mandate in and of itself. It’s government still telling businesses what they can and can't do. And I'm opposed to that.”

However, earlier this week Cox signed legislation that allowed workers to claim an exemption from vaccine mandates for sincerely held personal beliefs. However, that exemption wouldn’t count if the employee needs to be vaccinated to do their job and cannot be reassigned.

Cox said he signed that bill because he didn’t view it as an all-out ban on vaccine mandates.

“I felt that this was a good way to take some of the tension out of the room,” he said, “still encouraging people and businesses to have vaccine mandates, but to allow for some exemptions for four strongly held views. We're not accomplishing anything with the fighting that's going on. This is a way to really get more people vaccinated.”

Racism in schools

Cox told reporters he has met with the family of Izzy Tichenor, a 10-year-old girl who died by suicide earlier this month. Her family said she had been bullied at a Davis County school for being Black and autistic.

“We spent some very tender moments together,” Cox said. “Abby [Cox, his wife] and I — our heart is broken for that family. We love them.”

Cox said racism and bullying are issues in schools around the state and the nation.

“I've been very open about my own situation when I was younger, about being bullied, suicide ideation that I experienced as a young man,” he said “We have to be able to talk about race and we have to be able to talk about bullying. And we have to be able to talk about disabilities and treating each other with love and respect.”

The governor took a dig at parents who are “showing up at school district meetings and threatening people” and said they are modeling bullying for their kids, who then bring it to school.

A U.S. Department of Justice investigation found “serious and widespread racial harassment” in the Davis School District. It also found the district repeatedly failed to respond to those allegations.

Cox said he met with Davis School District Superintendent Reid Newey and has “full confidence in the superintendent and in the direction that they are moving to to address this.”

He added that the district hasn’t yet shared many of the actions they’re taking to deal with the issue.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at  at 1-800-273-8255.

Tax breaks and sports teams

Utah’s tax break system is likely going to get a big shakeup next year.

Cox said he’s been working with top lawmakers on a series of bills that would be the biggest change to the state’s main incentive program in 20 years.

“We'll be changing our focus from just bringing in jobs, jobs jobs — which is still important, but that's not going to be our main focus when our unemployment is under 2.5%, second lowest in the nation and we can't find enough workers — to building workforce, helping make sure that that we're investing in the people of Utah,” he said.

Cox said that means focusing on helping Utah-based businesses expand, as well targeting certain regions with higher unemployment and certain industries.

Sports analysts have speculated that Salt Lake City could get an NFL or MLB team soon. Cox said he isn’t in favor of offering massive tax breaks to build a stadium for the team.

“I don't like giving billionaires money from taxpayers,” he said. “I do not support what I've seen in other jurisdictions where people threaten to move the team if you don't build a billion dollar stadium. That's crazy. And any billionaire who asks for that should be embarrassed.”

But, Cox said, that decision would ultimately be left up to the voters.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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