Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Jan. 23. Cox signed two of the highest-profile bills from this year’s legislative session into law on Saturday. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)
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SALT LAKE CITY—Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed two of the highest-profile bills from this year’s legislative session into law on Saturday.
Cox gave his approval to SB16, a bill banning transgender surgeries for Utah children and teens, and HB215, which tied a $6,000 pay raise for school teachers to an $8,000 private school voucher program.
SB16, which has an immediate effective date, also places an indefinite moratorium on treatments including puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for minors. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, a practicing family physician, and passed by the Utah Legislature on a final 20-8 vote by the Senate.
“Legislation that impacts our most vulnerable youth requires careful consideration and deliberation,” Cox said in a statement about SB16. “While not a perfect bill, we are grateful for Sen. Kennedy’s more nuanced and thoughtful approach to this terribly divisive issue. More and more experts, states and countries around the world are pausing these permanent and life-altering treatments for new patients until more and better research can help determine the long-term consequences.
“We will continue to push the Legislature for additional resources to organizations that work to help this important Utah community. While we understand our words will be of little comfort to those who disagree with us, we sincerely hope that we can treat our transgender families with more love and respect as we work to better understand the science and consequences behind these procedures.”
The governor’s approval of the bill was anticipated after he said last week that the bill was a “very reasonable approach.”
ACLU of Utah and LGBTQ advocates have continually rallied against the bill. Advocates held a protest on the steps of the Utah Capitol and spoke in support of Utah’s transgender youth.
A sit-in was held in front of the governor’s office following the approval of the bill urging him to veto it. The ACLU of Utah released a statement following the approval of the bill, warning of litigation to follow.
The statement read, in part:
“Last year you spoke about how important it is to act on the side of “kindness, mercy, and compassion.” We echo the concerns and commitments you raised to give transgender youth in Utah a chance to live. This bill will undermine those commitments . The ACLU of Utah is deeply concerned about the damaging and potentially catastrophic effects this law will have on people’s lives and medical care, and the grave violations of people’s constitutional rights it will cause.”
#Update Unfortunately, SB 16, a bill that blocks gender-affirming care, passed the Utah State Legislature today. The ACLU of Utah took immediate action and sent Governor Cox (tag him) a letter urging him to veto SB 16. https://t.co/Uhh1fnFgOF… pic.twitter.com/Wyd0yKmx5y
— ACLU of Utah (@acluutah) January 27, 2023
Cox also issued a statement on the school choice scholarships bill. The bill provides $8,000 scholarships to qualifying families for private schools and other private education options and gives licensed educators a $6,000 pay raise.
The bill caused significant controversy between the two parties, with House and Senate Democrats giving significant pushback on the legislation. The bill was also was opposed by the Utah State Board of Education, Utah PTA and some school superintendents, business administrators and school boards.
While there was debate about tying teacher raises to a voucher program, the governor praised the bill in his statement about signing it.
“This bill strikes a good balance,” he said. “More than 90% of parents support Utah schools and so do we. Our top priority this session has been a significant increase in teacher compensation and education funding. We commend the Legislature for supporting our teacher pay proposal which will help address the state’s teacher shortage and give Utah teachers the much-needed pay raise they deserve. We also appreciate that HB215 gives Utah parents additional options to meet the needs of their families. School choice works best when we adequately fund public education and we remove unnecessary regulations that burden our public schools and make it difficult for them to succeed. We are especially appreciative of our teachers and education leaders who helped push for more accountability measures which were not included in the original bill.”