Friends and Neighbors,
This week marked the beginning of the 2023 General Session. For the next six weeks, I will be working alongside my fellow legislators to consider legislation on a variety of issues. I will be sending weekly updates about bills and significant events at the Capitol. I encourage each of you to reach out with your questions and thoughts. If you would like to get in touch with me or schedule a time to meet, please reach out to my new intern Gracia Allen at email@example.com. She is a wonderful resource, and I am already impressed by the caliber of her work.
The first day for the session was exciting and memorable. Four new senators joined us, we heard a stunning rendition of the National Anthem by the Lyceum Symphony at the American Heritage School, and we had the opportunity to host Elder Matthew S. Holland for the opening prayer. I was also honored to witness the presentation of the colors by the Utah Army National Guard. It was an impactful event where we came together to recognize our wonderful state and country.
This week, we heard the State of the Judiciary address, the State of the State address, and considered the first bills of the session. I am confident that we will accomplish great things in the coming months, including funding for water conservation and education, and cutting taxes for the third year in a row. I am proud to be a Utahn and I am optimistic about our future. Thank you for the opportunity to serve in this capacity.
Protecting Utah’s Children
One of the most important functions the Legislature performs is protecting the children of our state. Every year, we consider legislation with our children and grandchildren in mind. This session, we are examining several bills regarding transgender policies in the state, three of which were discussed in the Senate during our first week of the session.
S.B. 16 Sex Characteristic Surgical Procedures
S.B. 16 contains three main provisions: it seeks to ban transition surgeries for minors, creates a moratorium on the use of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for minors and requires several medical institutions throughout Utah to perform a robust examination of current worldwide and statewide data relating to the transgender care for minors.
The current scientific evidence regarding transgender healthcare has yet to reach a consensus regarding what is the effective treatment for transgender minors. Several European countries, which were decades ahead of the United States in pushing treatment for minors, such as puberty blockers, are now backing away from their former policies, recognizing the lack of scientific data examining the long-term consequences of surgery and hormone treatments for minors. With minors making permanent, life-altering decisions regarding their physical bodies, without strong research, the Legislature wants to have a longitudinal examination of data before allowing minors to make potentially harmful medical decisions. As such, the Legislature is proposing additional research be done for Utah's handling of such treatments and preventing additional children from beginning the treatment process before the long-term effects are known.
This bill is moving through the legislative process. This legislation was first heard in committee last year and was heard again in committee on Jan. 18 then debated and passed on the Senate floor. S.B. 16 is now in the House. You can track the progress of the bill here.
S.B. 100 School District Gender Identity Policies
Parents work closely with teachers to help educate their children, but it was recently brought to the Legislature's attention that schools can adopt policies that allow teachers to keep information about a child from their parents. S.B. 100 would prevent schools from adopting a policy of keeping information from a child's parents. For example, if a child asked the school to use a different name when addressing a child at school, a teacher would inform the parent of the change. This allows parents to stay informed about all aspects of their child's education, as is their right. You can track the progress of the bill here.
S.B. 93 Vital Records Modifications
S.B. 93 changes the state statute regarding when an individual can amend their birth certificate. The process for amending a birth certificate is a complex process, one that an individual does not embark on lightly due to the permanency of the change. As such, this bill would prevent a minor from changing their birth certificate until they become an adult at the age of 18. This policy will ensure that the immutability of a birth certificate change does not occur until an individual is old enough to make such a permanent decision. You can view the bill here.
Eliminating Gas Chambers in Animal Shelters
S.B. 108 Animal Shelter Revisions bans the use of gas chambers in animal shelters. The proposed legislation addresses euthanasia methods animal shelters can use and requires shelters to adopt a humane euthanasia policy and training program.
Utah is one of only three states that continues to use gas chambers in animal shelters. Currently, only five active shelters out of 3,500 shelters use gas chambers to euthanize animals in the United States. S.B. 108 will be heard in committee during the coming weeks. Track the bill here. Read more about the bill here.
How to Navigate the Legislative Website
Staying informed and knowing how to use government resources are important parts of being involved in the legislative process. With this in mind, we have created video tutorials and corresponding documents that explain how to best utilize the legislative website (le.utah.gov). We will be highlighting a new tutorial each week of the session, and we hope that they will be both helpful and instructive.
This week’s tutorial is “How to Find a Bill.” It walks you through the steps of how to find bills on the legislative website.
State of the Judiciary
In the recent State of the Judiciary address, we heard from Chief Justice Durrant. Surrounded by his colleagues, he spoke of the work Utah’s judicial branch is doing and the positive relationship it has with the legislative branch. Our state’s judiciary is consistently one of the best in the nation, and it was a pleasure to hear about their rigorous selection process for judges, their integrity, and their efforts to be fair-minded. As a lawmaker, it is a privilege to know that the laws we consider and pass during the session will be handled by a group of such capable individuals.
State of the State
Each year, the governor gives a State of the State address to update the Legislature, Judicial Branch, Executive Branch and Utahns on the state's successes and challenges. During his remarks, Gov. Cox spoke to the youth about the important areas that our state needs to improve on, the pursuit of happiness, and their ability to turn their fears into faith. Gov. Cox emphasized that there has never been a better time to be alive and that there has never been a better place to live than here in Utah. We will work to ensure it says that way for generations to come.
A good internet connection has become increasingly important over recent years. In addition to using it for virtual school and work, the internet is an essential part of access to information and resources. However, it is not available to all Utahns, and we are looking to change that.
As a state, we have the opportunity to expand “broadband,” which is a connection to high-speed internet. The Utah Broadband Center recently presented ways to make this resource more accessible and affordable.
Part of Utah is identified as either underserved or unserved when it comes to broadband. Up to 25% of reporting households said they had no internet access. Many others have low speeds and unstable connections.
As a state, we are using a multi-factor approach to get broadband to as many people as possible. But we need your help. By filling out the Connecting Utah High-Speed Internet Survey, you can help provide essential information as we apply for federal funding to bolster our efforts.
H.B. 215 Funding for Teacher Salaries and Optional Education Opportunities
As some parents look for alternative education options, we recognize that parents should be able to use their taxpayer money to choose the best education for their children. The past couple of years have highlighted that a “one-size fits all” approach to education does not work for every student. School choice options provide educational opportunities outside the public education system, such as private, charter or home school. School choice empowers parents to create a personalized education for their child and gives hope and opportunity to children who need it most.
In addition to providing parents and students with more choice, another priority this session is to raise teacher salaries. We want to recognize all the hard work teachers have been doing, so this session we plan to double the funding in the Teacher Salary Supplement Program to increase teacher salaries directly by $4,200 plus employer-paid benefits, which takes the total to $6,000. The Legislature continues to prioritize education and teachers in an effort to highlight the great work they do in our communities, both inside and outside the classroom. H.B. 215 passed the House and will now be considered in the Senate.
Senator Ron Winterton
Utah Senate District 20