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What to know now that we’re halfway through Utah’s legislative session

Rakel Davis

We are officially halfway through the Utah Legislature’s 45-day general session. In an unusual move, lawmakers tackled some of the most controversial legislation within the first two weeks of convening.

Here’s a breakdown of how the first 23 days have gone.

Where we started:

  • A bill prohibiting transgender minors from undergoing gender-affirming surgery and obtaining hormones passed both chambers within the first week and a half. All Democrats and only three Republicans voted against the bill. 

    • It was signed into law by Gov. Spencer Cox on the Saturday following its final passage in the House. 
    • Bill sponsor, Sen. Mike Kennedy, said he “would bet every dollar that I have in my bank account right now that this will be litigated.” The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and the National Center of Lesbian Rights have announced their intent to sue.
  • Lawmakers gave the green light on a bill that ties a public school teacher and staff salary raise sought by the governor with a school voucher program known as “Utah Fits All.” The program allocates state funds to help parents pay for their children to receive a private or homeschooled education. 

    • Gov. Cox signed this bill and the bill banning gender-affirming care for transgender youth on the same day. 
  • A resolution that would change how Utah judges issue injunctions made headway. It would raise the standards a legal case must meet in order for a judge to place an injunction.

    • The current injunction in place on Utah’s near-total abortion ban could be impacted. Legal experts argue it could also upend other injunctions placed on unrelated cases and overwhelm the court system if it passes.
    • It’s very convoluted in the legal sense. The resolution is currently circled (or put on pause) in the Senate until there’s more clarification on the outcome of it. 
  • A bill that would bar minors from changing their name or gender marker on their birth certificate unless there is an error or an adoption. 

    • It passed the Senate. It’s been in the House Rules Committee since late January. 
  • Another bill dealing with LGBTQ youth in schools would require parental consent if a child wanted to go by a different name or pronoun than what is on their school registration.

    • The bill went through some changes. It now requires parental consent if a student wants to go by a different name or pronoun on their official school documents. It also mandates that schools share a student’s file with the parent if they ask. 
    • Equality Utah spoke in favor of the bill after the changes were made.
    • It passed both chambers earlier this week and is headed to the governor. 

Where we’re at now:

  • Lawmakers have shifted focus from controversial bills to hard policies dealing with Utah’s water supply. The House and Senate Majority leaders dubbed it “Water Week” where they gathered to reiterate their commitment to solving Utah’s water crisis and unveil legislation. 

    • There are only a dozen or so bills (as of now) that focus on water. A lot of them are building off items passed in 2022.
  • Some bills are slowly making it to the finish line, including one that would increase funding for a turf buyback program. It would help pay for homeowners to rip out their thirsty grass and replace it with more water-wise landscaping. 

    • It’s passed the Senate and is currently awaiting a House committee hearing. 
  • Other bills like the Emergency Water Shortage Amendments have been circled (put on pause) in the House. The bill would give the state a roadmap on what to do if a water supply is compromised by something like a natural disaster. 

    • It does not deal with the ongoing drought. 
  • Some water legislation hasn’t been so lucky. A resolution that would establish a water level goal for Great Salt Lake didn’t make it out of committee. Another that would require golf courses to report water usage met the same fate
  • On air quality, there’s an appropriations request to give roughly $100,000 to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality to study and test the toxic dust from Great Salt Lake 

What’s next?

  • Lawmakers promised a hefty tax cut this session, but it’s unclear how much will be cut and from where. 

    • House and Senate leaders said “everything is on the table,” when it comes to tax cuts. 
  • Aside from the resolution that could change how judges grant injunctions, the Legislature hasn’t taken up much legislation related to abortion. More is expected before lawmakers adjourn for the year. 

    • A bill stuck in the rules committee right now deals with sexual assault victims and abortion. It would require victims to report their assault within 72 hours if they would like to possibly obtain an abortion. 

P.S. If you want to stay plugged into what’s happening at the Utah State Capitol, be sure to subscribe to our State Street Podcast.

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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