The 2019 Legislative Session came to a close this month, rounding out 45 days, countless issues, hundreds of new laws and pieces of code. This year I watched several pieces of legislation: Equality Utah had two incredibly important bills, one banning conversion therapy and the other creating a hate crimes statute. In addition, I watched three bills supported by the United Way of Slat Lake that increased early childhood education funding and developed more scholarship opportunities. As with all issues in Utah, some passed and some didn’t. Here’s my summary on these bills.
SB 103, Victim Targeting Penalty Enhancements, was sponsored by Sen. Daniel Thatcher, and Rep. Lee Perry. The passage of this bill has been a long time coming. The effects of hate crimes are different from the effects of other crimes because hate crimes can terrorize entire communities. In other words, hate crimes are especially frightening because they send a message to an entire group that they’re under threat as well. This bill passed on march 13, and is headed to the Governor’s desk for his signature.
HB 399, Prohibition of the Practice on Conversion Therapy upon Minors, was sponsored by Rep. Craig Hall. This year Equality Utah worked with the State Legislature to ban conversion therapy. Passing such a prohibition has been a priority for Equality Utah as a way of combating the state’s high suicide rates. Unfortunately, this bill was substituted with a bill that will not protect children from conversion therapy, or prevent and LGBTQ youth suicides. In a surprising turn of events, Governor Gary Herbert pulled his support for the bill after it was substituted. No bill was passed this session, but I’m sure this issue will not go away as conversion therapy is still happening in Utah.
SB 166, School Readiness Amendments, will align all of the preschool bills that have passed over the years, and provide $12 Million in ongoing funds for school, private and home-based preschool programs that help children start kindergarten ready to learn. This bill passed and received its full funding request.
HB 47, Early Childhood Coordination Amendments also passed, which will help improve policy decision-making, alignment, and coordination of programs and services for kids ages zero to six. Knowing the first five years of a child’s life are the most critical to their long-term success, HB 47 will help highlight where the gaps are, and what changes need to be made to ensure every child has the chance to grow and thrive.
HB 260, Access to Utah Promise Scholarship, passed providing a huge win for college access. Education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty and ensuring families are financially stable. This bill builds a statewide pipeline to college access and completion for students who otherwise would not attend.
While there are hundreds of other bills that passed and failed, these 5 were at the top of my list this year. Huge wins for college access, early childhood education and the LGBTQ community. There is still a lot of progress we can make, but we have a good start.