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Week 2 Legislative Recap: Education curriculum, tax cuts and the golden eagle

A photo of two students walking in Glendale Middle School.
Jon Reed
A bill in the Utah Legislature would require teaching material to be pre-approved by local school boards — with an open process for parental input.

It’s the end of week two at the Utah Legislature and lawmakers have been voting on everything from education curriculum to taxes to the golden eagle.

KUER politics reporter and State Streetpodcast co-host Sonja Hutson joined host Caroline Ballard to break it all down.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Caroline Ballard: Let's dive right in with what was probably the most controversial bill debated this week. It provides more oversight on the materials teachers use in the classroom. Tell us about the proposal and where it came from. 

Sonja Hutson: This bill [S.B. 114] would require teaching material to be pre-approved by local school boards. It is sponsored by the same senator who sponsored a resolution in May about critical race theory. That's Republican Lincoln Fillmore. And parents are worried that CRT — critical race theory — is seeping into their children's classrooms, even though it's not a part of the curriculum.

On the other side, you've got some teachers that are worried that this proposal would create even more layers of bureaucracy at a time when they are already overburdened. That bill passed out of committee on Thursday.

And another controversial bill [H.B. 234] that would give parents even more oversight was introduced earlier this session. But the Republican sponsor Rep. Jordan Teuscher withdrew that bill today and he’s going to spend a little bit more time working on it outside of the session.

CB: Senate President Stuart Adams declared [that] this is the year of the tax cut, just like he did last year. We have had some movement on that proposal this week. Tell us what happened. 

SH: We're definitely experiencing a little déjà vu. It already feels like we've lived the same year over and over again and I guess the same is true when it comes to taxes.

But back to this proposal, there were a bunch of different income and corporate tax bills that got introduced this year. But the chosen one [S.B. 59] seems to be this proposal to cut the income tax rate by 0.1%. So for a family of four making the state's median income, which is about $72,000 a year, they would have an extra $100 per year in their pocket. All total that would cost the state about $160 million.

Public comment was pretty mixed during the committee hearing. You had some people saying that the state could afford an even bigger cut and they should take a bigger cut. You had other people saying that the money would be better spent on social services.

This bill passed the Senate on Friday. It still needs to be approved by the House, but House Speaker Brad Wilson says that they're actually probably going to add to that with some more tax cuts for low income people and retirees, but they're still working out the details on that.

CB: Speaking of déjà vu legislation, we also saw a police reform bill that failed last year get resurrected. What was that about? 

SH: This proposal [H.B. 124] deals with ‘no-knock’ warrants and what are called ‘knock and announce’ warrants. This bill places a bunch of parameters on how those warrants can be carried out.

For example, it bans ‘no-knock’ warrants if police are investigating misdemeanor charges. Officers would also have to wear clothing that easily identifies them as police. The bill also states that it is preferable for law enforcement to carry out these warrants before 10 p.m.

Black Lives Matter Utah supports this bill. They say it could prevent a situation like what happened to Breonna Taylor. She was killed by police in Kentucky in 2020 while they were using a ‘no-knock’ warrant to enter her house in the middle of the night.

That bill passed unanimously in its first committee hearing.

CB: Why is this bill gaining traction this year when it couldn't last year? 

SH: The big sticking point last year, which they have removed this year, was a requirement for officers to wait 30 seconds before entering the house when they are serving a ‘knock and announce’ warrant. Now it says that they just have to wait a ‘reasonable’ amount of time.

CB: We always like to end these with a piece of fun legislation because we all deserve that on a Friday afternoon. Tell us about the very controversial bird legislation. 

SH: This bill [S.B. 116] would make the golden eagle Utah's state bird of prey. Now, don't worry, this would not replace the California Seagull as the state bird. It just adds another state symbol.

The bill's sponsor says that gulls are a really important symbol for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. But you know, not all Utahns are members of the Church, and it's not part of all Utahns heritage. I think this is even more relevant as the state becomes less and less LDS — if current trends continue. We're seeing a little bit of inclusivity through state symbols here.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
Caroline is the Assistant News Director
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