SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — The Utah legislature came to an early close yesterday, Mar. 3, after a controversial and “historic” session.

From transgender rights to abortion, this session discussed a variety of issues prompting some critics to say this session was focused on ‘cultural wars.’ However, Governor Cox says it was his favorite session from the past 11 years he has been involved.

“We saw historic increases in education investment, historic increases in water conservation investment, historic increases in housing investment, and historic tax cuts,” Cox told ABC4.

With 575 bills passed this session, it is difficult to know which ones will most directly affect your life. Here are a few notable bills from the 2023 legislative session:

H.B. 215 – Education vouchers

It allows parents to use a voucher worth $8,000 toward alternative education options, such as private school or homeschooling. The bill also gives teachers in Utah up to a $6,000 raise. However, despite the salary increase, many teacher organizations, including Utah Education Association, opposed the bill as they have a long-standing opposition to vouchers, according to UEA president Renée Pinkney.

S.B. 16 – Bans transgender surgery for minors

This new bill, signed the second Saturday of the session, bans gender-affirming surgery for minors under the age of 18. However, minors will have access to hormone treatments on the condition of being diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The transgender community, among others, expressed strong disapproval of this bill.

Physician Taylor Delgado said the bill would increase demand for out-of-state care and telehealth but would not change who the children are. Representatives who support the bill say they have passed this with empathy for these individuals and their families.

H.B. 467 – State stops issuing abortion licenses for clinics

The state will stop issuing abortion licenses in May and will begin a ban on these services from abortion clinics in Jan. 2024 in an effort to move abortion services to hospitals. The bill also places limits on victims of rape or incest, as they are required to file a police report in order to be approved for abortion services. In addition, it restricts abortion past 18 weeks of pregnancy, including for rape or incest victims. The bill, although passed, has not yet been signed by Governor Cox.

H.B. 491 – Great Salt Lake Commissioner

This bill attempts to improve the current condition of the Great Salt lake by creating a Great Salt Lake Commissioner to oversee all the agencies working on the lake. However, this too was controversial as some conservationists and scientists say they are not doing enough.

“If you look at the salt lakes that have been destroyed around the world, what we call success is usually a slowing of the decline. No one has succeeded in turning this around, so that’s a big threat to our community. It’s also an opportunity for us to be pioneers and demonstrate to the world how we can come together and solve this in a collaborative, Utah way,” BYU Assistant Professor Ben Abbott said.

Other bills, such as H.B. 450, address landscaping requirements in order to help reduce unnecessary water usage.

Social Media Bills

Two bills passed and are waiting to be signed by the governor regarding minors’ usage of social media.

S.B. 152 requires parental permission and age verification before a minor is able to access certain social media platforms. It could also limit or prohibit direct messaging for minor accounts and hide the accounts in search results.

H.B. 311 strives to hold social media platforms accountable for addictive algorithms and harm caused on minors.

Some of the criticism surrounding these bills is on the difficulty of enforcing them. Governor Cox says they have some years before they go into effect to work with social media companies and third-party age verification systems to enforce the laws while maintaining privacy.

“These apps are killing our kids, and that should be at the top of everybody’s mind, especially these social media companies. We are going to hold them accountable, and we are going to save our children. And Utah is leading the nation and everyone else is watching and I suspect, in fact I know, we are going to see many states copying what Utah is doing and hopefully eventually congress as well,” Governor Cox told ABC4.

Utah State Flag

S.B. 31, the bill introducing a new Utah state flag passed, but with some changes. This was a highly controversial topic that received a lot of public feedback during the past year as the new flag was being designed.

Governor Cox encouraged people on both sides of the issue to read the final bill as it is very different than the original one. The bill now allows for two state flags, the traditional one with the state seal and the newer design. He said that many states, even the United States itself, have two flags.

Other Bills of Interest

Other bills addressed housing issues, conversion therapy bans, budget changes, homeless shelters, and even an official state mushroom and crustacean. To see a full list of the 575 bills that were passed, click here.