The Utah State Legislature passed 510 bills over this year’s 45-day general session, ranging from a bill to fund affordable housing projects to a law regulating the disposal of fetal remains.
While this is lower than the number of bills passed during last year’s session, 574, or the 2018 session, 533, Utah’s lawmakers still considered hundreds of bills that will impact the lives of residents.
Here is a look at some of the bills that did, and didn’t, make it through the 2020 legislative session:
Bills that passed
Polygamy decriminalization: Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, sponsored a bill this session to reclassify bigamy as an infraction instead of a third-degree felony. Henderson said polygamists in Utah “are tired of being treated like second-class citizens” and “feel like Utah has legalized prejudice against them.” S.B. 102 received overwhelming support from lawmakers, 19 of whom signed on as co-sponsors. Prosecutors and polygamists testified in legislative committees that decriminalizing bigamy would prevent abuse in polygamist communities and lead to social integration.
Affordable housing: A bill sponsored by Lehi Republican Sen. Jacob Anderegg asked the legislature for $35 million to fund the development of affordable housing and provide rental assistance to families who are at risk of becoming homeless. While S.B. 39’s funding was cut to $10 million, it successfully made it through the House and Senate. Anderegg said the bill is the result of work by the state’s Commission on Housing Affordability and believes it will help low-income Utahns “who are legitimately one life event away from being homeless.” The $10 million will go into the state’s Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund and be used to fund housing for low and moderate-income residents.
Violence against Indigenous women task force: Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, introduced a bill to create a “Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls Task Force” to study violence experienced by Native American women. The task force would consist of members of the House and Senate, a representative of a Native American victim advocate organization, and the director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs. Native American women experience domestic abuse, sexual assault and other forms of violence at rates higher than nearly any other group. The House and Senate both passed H.B. 116 unanimously.
Fetal remains disposal: Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, sponsored a bill to require medical facilities to either cremate or bury the fetal remains of abortions or miscarriages, leaving the decision between the two forms of disposition up to the mother. Bramble said the bill gives women more choices and ensures that fetal remains are disposed of in a dignified way. Critics of the bill say women already have a choice over disposition options and that it unnecessarily interferes with the doctor-patient relationship. Lawmakers amended the bill to only focus on abortion, but that amendment was later abandoned.
Abortion prohibition: A bill sponsored by Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, would ban abortions in Utah at any stage of gestation, although it wouldn’t go into effect unless the United States Supreme Court overturned its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. S.B. 174 passed through both chambers and, if Roe v. Wade were overturned, would make it a second degree felony for a physician to perform an abortion in Utah, with exceptions made for cases of rape, incest, or if the life of the mother were in danger.
Mental health services: A bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, will expand Utah’s mobile crisis outreach teams and fund the development of a behavior health receiving center. The bill asks for $5.9 million in one-time funds and an additional $10.8 million in ongoing money. H.B. 32 passed through both chambers unanimously. Another bill of Eliason’s, H.B. 35, would study the need for adult beds at the Utah State Hospital.
Prosecutor and jail data collection requirements: Provo Republican Rep. Marsha Judkins sponsored a bill that would up the reporting requirements for attorney’s offices and county jails throughout the state. Specifically, H.B. 22 would require county jails to compile information on inmate gender, race and ethnicity and require prosecutors to report whether charges were brought or if a plea bargain was reached, among other data points. Judkins said the bill will help increase transparency in Utah’s criminal justice system and give lawmakers a better understanding of how to address concerns.
Public education funding: Lawmakers passed a proposal to amend the Utah Constitution to expand how income tax dollars can be spent to allow spending on children and individuals with a disability. Additionally, they passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, to provide “growth and stabilization in public education funding.”
Pornography labeling: A bill introduced by Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, would require all pornography in state to include a label warning about the harms porn can cause minors. The attorney general or any member of the public would be able to bring action against pornography manufacturers who failed to do so.
Bills that didn’t pass
County government changes: Brammer also sponsored a bill this session that would require counties with populations greater than 500,000 to switch to either an executive-council form of government or council-manager form. The bill targeted Utah County, which will ask voters in November whether the county should switch from a three-member commission to a full-time mayor and part-time five-member council. H.B. 257 stalled in the House Political Subdivisions Committee on Feb. 12.
Clergy abuse reporting requirements: Rep. Romero also sponsored a bill this session that would remove child abuse reporting exemptions for clergy members and religious leaders. The bill received pushback from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, who argued that it would require priests to break the Seal of Confession. The bill was numbered but never made it to a House committee.
Hormone therapy for transgender minors: After abandoning legislation that would ban gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy for transgender Utahns under the age of 18, Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, proposed a bill to study existing research on the health impacts of such practices. Daw said research that puberty blockers like Lupron have been shown to have negative side effects while LGBTQ+ activists said the bill targeted transgender youth. H.B. 449 failed in the House on a 17-55 vote.
Mandatory ultrasounds: West Jordan Republican Rep. Steve Christiansen sponsored a bill that would mandate that physicians performing abortions display “fetal images of each unborn child” to the mother and make “each unborn child’s heartbeat audible.” All six of Utah’s women senators, both Democrats and Republicans, walked off the Senate floor in protest of H.B. 364. While the bill originally passed both chambers, it was held in the House on the last day of the session.
Rent control: Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, introduced a bill that would give cities and counties the authority to impose rent control measures within their jurisdiction. Currently, there is a state provision prohibiting municipalities from doing so. H.B. 131 was never heard in committee.