Legislation in Utah goes through a complicated process before it is passed. U alumna Angela Romero has become an expert at navigating the procedure from experience. Romero represents district 26, located in Salt Lake County, in Utah’s House of Representatives.
Since being elected in 2012, Romero has sponsored legislation regarding protective orders, human trafficking, adoption and foster care, paid family leave, domestic violence, sexual assault and child sexual abuse. She’s currently working on legislation that would make it mandatory that every rape kit in Utah is tested.
According to the state’s website, there are 10 major steps to passing legislation. Legislators begin with an idea conceived by “constituents, government agencies, special interest groups, lobbyists, the governor and the legislator.”
Next, an attorney from the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel gathers information on the issue. This includes assessing whether or not the idea conflicts with or repeats the laws that are currently on the books and determining the price of implementation. The attorney then drafts the legislation and gives it a number.
After it’s drafted, the document is presented to the legislature. The Rules Committee within the legislature then refers the legislation to one of over 90 specific committees operating in the Utah State Legislature. These committees specialize in various areas of policy. That committee may then “amend, hold, table, substitute, or make a favorable recommendation on the bill.” After the committee finishes reviewing the legislation, they present a report to the full legislative body.
If the piece of legislation passes in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, attorneys rewrite it into its final form and submit it to the governor. The governor can then sign it, veto it, or allow it to become law without their signature.
Working as a legislator requires a lot of compromise, Romero said. “You may not get what you want.”
Romero focuses on what she really believes the people of Utah need. “It’s not about R or D, but about Utah,” Romero said.
According to Romero, some of her colleagues haven’t had opportunities to learn about the issues she often focuses on — much of it isn’t “on their radar.” Romero takes the time to talk to legislators individually and said it’s important to her that those one-on-one conversations help both parties to see “where each other are truly coming from.”
Romero began seeing politics through a bipartisan lens when she was a student at the U. During a Hinckley Institute of Politics internship with two representatives in the Utah State Legislature, Romero learned about the importance of cooperation across party lines.
Her internship showed her that “advocacy is just part of the puzzle,” and taught her the “nuts and bolts” of policy. It taught her the “art of negotiation and ensuring that you understood where people were coming from, and that you were always honest with them,” Romero said. “If you give people respect, they’ll give you that respect back.”
As a member of Utah’s House of Representatives, Romero is most proud of her work advocating for individuals with disabilities and children that are victims of sexual abuse.
HB 286 is titled “Child Sexual Abuse Prevention.” Salt Lake City’s website reports that, in Utah “1-in-3 women will experience some form of sexual violence during their lives,” that “approximately 1-in-8 women will be raped sometime during their lifetimes” and that “78.7 percent of victims were first assaulted before their 18th birthday,” — meaning that most of these victims are children. The state’s website says that Utah’s rate of reported rapes was “significantly higher than the U.S. rate” in 2014 and that most rapes are never reported, meaning that “sexual violence in Utah is grossly underestimated.” HB 286 applies to all public and private K-12 schools. It requires schools to train teachers and staff to respond to disclosures of abuse properly and according to the mandatory reporting laws. The legislation also mandates that schools teach parents and guardians how to recognize sexual abuse and how to talk about it with children in age-appropriate ways. The law further instructs schools to educate all students, unless their parents choose to opt out, on sexual abuse prevention and awareness.
Romero said the curricula included in the law was designed by a committee of experts and had to be approved by the State School Board. It’s being implemented for the first time this year, and the board is required to report back annually to the legislature on its success. Romero said every year some of her colleagues try to amend HB 286 to reduce the number of children receiving education on how to prevent sexual abuse.
According to her, this is frustrating because she wants people to allow the bill to be fully implemented and tested before they criticize it. However, she said she appreciates the comments, as the challenging of laws is part of the beauty of the democratic process.
Romero says it’s her goal that constituents recognize that legislators are elected by the people, so the government is “the people’s government, the capitol is the people’s house and the legislators are there for them.” Government can be complicated, but she said it shouldn’t be dismissed because the people in it design and pass laws that impact each citizen’s life. “You should know who you need to talk to and how to talk to them,” Romero said. “People need to feel comfortable reaching out to their representatives to help them navigate [the political process] and get their voices heard.”
Graphic by Zac Fox