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Whoa, we’re halfway there! Here’s what Utah lawmakers have been up to so far in 2024

A view of the dome on the first day of the 2024 Utah legislative session at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Jan. 16, 2024.
Briana Scroggins
Special to KUER
A view of the dome on the first day of the 2024 Utah legislative session at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Jan. 16, 2024.

The 2024 Utah legislative session ends on March 1. In the first few weeks of the session, lawmakers, their staff, journalists and the public saw everything from two controversial bills getting passed in record time to a push for Utah’s “energy independence.”

After the first 25 days, here’s what lawmakers have been up to so far.

A fast and furious start

Right out of the gate, the GOP supermajority charged ahead with two of the most hot-button bills of the session.

  • A bill eliminating diversity, equity and inclusion programs and hiring practices at K-12 schools, public universities and government agencies passed along party lines. 

    • DEI programs have been a target of many conservatives who say they encourage discrimination and ideological sameness — essentially doing the opposite of what they’re intended to do.
    • Democrats maintain that the law ignores systemic racism. By not acknowledging inherent inequities in areas like education and employment, they say work toward equality could go backward.
  • Lawmakers also placed restrictions on transgender people using the bathroom matching their gender identity. Now, people have to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate.

    • The law pertains to publicly owned and controlled buildings — public schools and county recreation centers — and follows the lead of nine other states that have enacted similar laws.
    • Title IX provisions were also strengthened, enshrining equal access for boys’ and girls’ sports when it comes to things like practice and game times, locker rooms and venues.
    • There has already been some fallout in the wake of Utah’s recent policies. State school board member Natalie Cline insinuated on social media that a high school girls basketball player was not a biological girl. She is. LGBTQ+ advocates said this “moral panic” will continue and more accusations will be leveled against teenage athletes.

Both bills were signed into law by Gov. Spencer Cox on Jan. 30.

Why the rush?

GOP leaders in the House and Senate say front loading the session with these issues gives them more time to focus on other important things like the budget process at the end of the session. Critics say the fast pace gives the public little time to read the bills and make their voices heard.

Energy week

GOP leadership identified energy as a top focus this session. While the state’s official approach to energy is “all of the above,” there are clearly a few favorites like coal and natural gas.

  • Both Speaker of the House Mike Schultz and Senate President Stuart Adams want to make Utah “energy independent.” 

    • But what that means is up to interpretation.
    • Some say it’s a nice slogan, but not likely to happen.
    • While “energy independence” might sound nice, it could actually end up costing Utahns in the long run as cheaper forms of power are generated out of state.
  • Lawmakers are also looking to double down on coal

    • Environmental Protection Agency regulations around emissions are pushing some Utah coal power plants to close early.
    • While HB191 does not specifically mention coal, it does target facilities that are closing early due to federal regulations. If a power plant does close, it would need to be replaced by one of equal capacity.

What’s left?

Some big bills relating to child abuse and child custody proceedings are still making their way through the Legislature.

  • Om’s Law

    • Named for 16-year-old Om Moses Gandhi, who was killed by his father in 2023 during court-ordered, unsupervised parent time, the bill clarifies who can give “expert” testimony in family court on issues of child abuse.
    • It also enhances training for judges and other court workers to better identify both physical and psychological abuse.
  • Clergy and sexual assault reporting

    • A version of this bill has been introduced in the past, but it did not pass. Instead of mandating that ecclesiastical leaders report abuse, it would give them the option to.
    • Clergy can also make a report if they have a “reason to believe that a child is, or has been, the subject of abuse or neglect,” even if it hasn’t been disclosed to them.
  • The state budget

    • Gov. Cox has proposed a $29.5 billion budget containing everything from funding for affordable housing and homelessness to education and water conservation.
    • Look for legislators to pass a final version in the waning days of the session.

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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