As the Legislature approaches its final week in session, many bills are reaching final stages of being passed or rejected.
We were particularly disappointed in a handful of bills in the last week that fell apart — among them the alcohol bill and conversion therapy — and the progression of House Bill 74 advocating for open meeting amendments that will lead to less accountability from government entities’ to the public.
Conversion or reparative therapies have held a stronghold in Utah in previous decades.
A bill proposed to ban conversion therapy at the beginning of the session inspired hope for many in the state who believe it would be a much-needed milestone for not just the LGBTQ community but for all residents in the state.
It was hopeful to hear that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also made it clear it would not oppose a proposal to ban gay conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy doesn’t exist in 15 states and in the District of Columbia where the harmful and damaging practice is banned. And yet, a compromise last week by less than 10 Republican lawmakers changed the bill to be as ineffective as Utah’s current hate-crime laws. In the spirit of “compromising,” we also compromised our ability to protect youth from damaging practices on a population that is already at increased risk for suicide.
The unnecessary changes to the bill is a setback to Utah, as well as the governor’s teen suicide task force — some of which resigned over the direction the conversion therapy bill took. Gov. Gary Herbert later released a letter apologizing for supporting the changes, calling it “an enormous misunderstanding.”
In 2019, Utah should have passed effective legislation banning conversion therapy.
Instead, our youth will continue to be endangered with countless consequences to continue to unfold in the future.
Despite the Legislature’s ineffective action this year, we hope the Utah LGBTQ community feels the love and support of so many others in the state who will continue to push for fair and just legislation to protect them.
As journalists who seek to provide watchdog functions in local communities, we will always oppose the diminishing of government transparency. We believe government entities should be beholden to the people, even if certain processes feel inconvenient. While it might not be the intent of those seeking to push HB 74, discussions behind closed doors, in this case about audits, could open the door for abuse to allow these public bodies to discuss uncomfortable information in an audit behind closed doors and plans to minimize negative public response. If the Legislature carves out exceptions through amendments to Utah’s open meeting laws, Utah taxpayers will pay the price in the future as Utah edges closer to protecting those operating the government more than the people it serves.
This legislation is now before the Senate, with favorable opinions from the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee. We urge residents to contact their local senators and voice opposition to this bill that looks after the convenience of those elected more so than the public who entrusted them to operate with transparency.