Was Utah’s 2023 legislative session a success? It depends on who you ask
This year’s legislative session has come and gone. Five hundred and seventy-five bills were passed in the House and Senate and now await Gov. Spencer Cox’s signature.
The bill count is the largest number passed since the Legislature started tracking that data in 1998.
In part, that efficiency can be attributed to the supermajority Republicans have in both the House and Senate and the governor’s office. Despite having total control, legislative leaders said to not always expect the same pace in the future.
“This session was not normal,” Speaker of the House Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, told freshman lawmakers after the session ended. “The weight of the things that we did here exceeds kind of the norm. But I hope in the future you can continue to help us do big things like this.”
In addition to passing a record-setting $29 billion budget, lawmakers also tackled transgender health care and school choice early in the session. That was a conscious choice by GOP leadership in both chambers.
“I'm really glad that we frontloaded the session with a couple of very controversial bills because I can't even imagine the pressure we would be under if we still had those hanging over our heads right now,” said Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, on the penultimate day of the session. “So I think it was a good, wise choice to do those [early].”
“I think this has been the biggest session in modern history,” added House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper. “If you look at all the big policy issues that we've looked at and addressed, absolutely I'm satisfied.”
But Democrats did not always see the pace of the session as a positive.
“For [Republicans], they saw that as they were breaking records,” said House Minority Leader Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City. “But at what expense? So we're going to give teachers a $6,000 raise, but we're also giving money to families to take their kids out of public school. So is that really a win for us?"
Despite accomplishments like some appropriations requests and bills addressing clean air and insurance coverage for children in mixed-status families, Romero felt the 2023 session was one of the most partisan she has been a part of since 2013. Particularly, she said, when it came to issues like the ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors and abortion access.
“Whether we were talking about education or whether we're talking about tax cuts, it was very different than the past. And then just the attack on abortion and our trans kids. It was very overwhelming.”
The executive branch may have gotten most of what it wanted out of the session, but Cox can see why some felt they were left out of the process.
“I don't know that it would have changed the outcome, but I do think in the minds of some people that it was a rushed process when it didn't need to be,” the governor said. “Even if they'd taken just three or four more days and held maybe one more additional hearing so that it wasn’t a suspension of the rules.”
Gov. Cox has until March 23 to sign or veto the bills passed by the Legislature. If a bill is not signed by then, it automatically becomes law.