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Despite the tip line mess, Cox remains confident in the intent of Utah’s bathroom law

Gov. Spencer J. Cox speaks to reporters during the Governor's Monthly News Conference at the PBS Utah Studios in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 16, 2024.
Laura Seitz
Deseret News, Pool
Gov. Spencer J. Cox speaks to reporters during the Governor's Monthly News Conference at the PBS Utah Studios in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 16, 2024.

While lawmakers and Gov. Spencer Cox made quick work of passing Utah’s bathroom access bill earlier this year, the May rollout of the law hasn’t gone as smoothly. Schools have seen a hodgepodge of approaches and hoaxers swamped the enforcement tip line — much to the consternation of the state auditor, who lashed out.

Speaking with reporters during his May monthly news conference, Cox conceded the effectiveness of the bill “remains to be seen.” However, even with some fixes he highlighted, “the intent of the bill,” which is ”protecting women in women’s spaces,” will remain intact.

“Like with any bill, I think there will be a time where we learn from it, see what's working, what’s not working and we’ll come back and figure out ways to make it work better,” he said.

The law, which took full effect on May 1, tasked the Office of the State Auditor with setting up a tip line where people could report government entities not abiding by the law. Auditor John Dougall, who is in charge of vetting the alleged violations, said there has since been a flood of thousands of “frivolous complaints.”

Dougall, who is also running to represent Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, slammed the Legislature for its “rushed” passage of the bill.

“I recognize that many Utahns feel trampled by an invasive and overly aggressive Legislature that too often fails to seek input from those most affected,” Dougall’s statement read. “The Legislature crafted these public policies, and only the Legislature can revise them.”

In a video posted to X, formerly Twitter, the auditor was vocal about his contempt for playing the role of “bathroom monitor” and that the law wasn’t intended to protect women and girls in private spaces.

“If this bill were actually about making girls safer, you would think the Legislature would actually spend some money retrofitting bathrooms and providing greater privacy and greater safety.”

Gov. Cox doesn’t believe the debacle with the complaint form is “getting in the way of the implementation” because it outlines “it’s illegal for people of a different biological sex to enter into a women’s restroom or locker room,” which he considers to be “the most important part of the bill.”

He’s aware of Dougall’s frustration, but said he “disagrees generally” with the auditor’s take that it doesn’t accomplish anything and exists for the “MAGA-antics.” Cox said there are people who aren’t a fan of the “cultural wars” that “have legitimate concerns.”

Utah recently joined a lawsuit with three other GOP states challenging the U.S. Department of Education’s new Title IX rule — something the governor said he supports. The change made by the Biden administration would add protections for transgender students in school, including their participation in sports and access to bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

“We believe that this administration has overstepped and actually undercuts the original intent of Title IX,” Cox said. “Ultimately a court will make those decisions.”

Utah House Speaker Mike Schultz backed the state’s involvement and said on social media the new revisions “forces schools to accommodate the wishes of biological men to enter female only spaces.”

In 2022, the Legislature passed a bill prohibiting transgender students from joining school sports. Cox’s veto was later overturned by the Republican-supermajority Legislature. But a court-issued injunction is blocking it from going into effect.

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