While bills that decriminalized polygamy, increased abortion restrictions and expanded access to medical marijuana grabbed headlines during Utah’s 2020 Legislative Session, the majority of proposed bills passed or failed on Capitol Hill without attracting the attention of the majority of Utahns. This is understandable, considering the volume of laws passed. More than 800 bills were proposed during this year’s 45-day legislative session and over 500 of them passed — numbers that are practically impossible to stay informed upon. But now that shelter-in-place orders begin to keep Utahns at home, some of their newfound time should be spent on catching up on what happened during this year’s legislative session.
What is and is not passed during the legislative session impacts all Utahns’ daily lives. During the 2020 session lawmakers “fundamentally changed” how public school funding is obtained, dedicated $10 million to the development of affordable housing and ignored all proposed gun safety bills, despite their popularity.
Legislators’ decisions have also had impacts on COVID-19 relief. After researching the city’s options, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall begrudgingly announced that the state alone has the authority to enact a rent freeze or a moratorium on evictions. Without help from the legislature, the city would be unable to protect residents impacted financially by the virus from homelessness. This is especially frustrating because if Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost’s H.B. 131 had been passed this past session, municipalities like Salt Lake City would be able to provide citizens with rent relief. Sadly, H.B. 131 was never permitted to move out of committee.
While lawmakers respond to angry voters, the depressing reality is that there is currently little constituent oversight on Capitol Hill. The majority of Utahns cannot even name their state legislators, so it is unrealistic to expect them to passionately read through dry bill drafts to formulate nuanced opinions on legislation that has already been considered. However, as the laws passed impact every aspect of our lives from air quality to civil rights, being informed is should be a priority for every Utahn. Gratefully, there are many local resources to begin learning about the past session.
Fox13’s session recap, “What the Utah State Legislature did to your life this year,” is one of the most extensive recaps available for the 2020 session. It provides a quick overview with hyperlinks on hot-topic issues — like abortion and pornography — debated during the session. This recap also provides similar information on less approachable legislative topics like water rights and tourism. The Salt Lake Tribune has created a list of this session’s “winners” and “losers.” This resource goes beyond reporting if a bill was passed, instead discussing the ramifications for specific groups and the politics behind some of the session’s most controversial bills.
This past January, the Opinion Desk at the Daily Utah Chronicle was tasked with writing on proposed bills throughout the 2020 legislative session. The articles written as part of this project are some of our most compelling pieces, and we worked to inspire readers to write their representatives on behalf of a bill. These pieces still hold the power to educate Utahns on why a bill should have passed, why a bill should have been killed in committee and why it was so important that a bill was signed into law. Thankfully, readers still can email their representatives at any time to thank or admonish them for supporting a bill.
Utahns usually don’t have time to extensively research their legislators, but shelter-in-place orders are opening up Utahns’ schedules. As the laws passed in the 2020 session have lasting impacts that will be felt during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, Utahns should use their time to learn about the bills passed during this session and take note of how their representatives voted.