We’ve passed the halfway mark of Utah’s legislative session. The appropriations subcommittees have wrapped up their work.

For the first half of the session, the bipartisan subcommittees, consisting of members from both the House and Senate heard from agencies, organizations and advocates. Each presenter had information to share and specific budget requests.

Then earlier this week, each committee prioritized the requests. Each committee then submitted its recommendation to the executive appropriations committee. There will be more discussion, and the final budget will be prepared and presented to the full House and Senate.

Typically, not every bill prioritized by subcommittees will end up funded. One area of prioritized funding is for maternal health, including maternal mental health.

Maternal depression and anxiety

On Thursday, there was a press conference on Utah’s Capitol Hill regarding maternal mental health. Gov. Spencer Cox has declared February 2023 Utah Maternal Health Awareness Month. The declaration reads in part, “Whereas, Utah has one of the highest birth rates in the nation, “Whereas, in 2021 more than half of Utah mothers report experiencing depression or anxiety before, during or after pregnancy,” and “Whereas maternal depression and anxiety are the leading complications of childbirth” (in Utah), and the leading cause of maternal death in Utah, this declaration seeks to bring awareness to not only the problem, but to solutions as well.

Some of the solutions are legislative — asking for additional coverage for moms on Medicaid, to go from 60 days to one year, as Rep. Rosemary Lesser, D-Ogden, does with HB84, for example. Additionally, Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, has a bill that would direct the state Medicaid program to apply for a “state plan amendment” to cover labor and postpartum doulas, and Rep. Ashlee Mathews, D-Salt Lake City, is sponsoring a bill that would increase insurance coverage of doulas. Other solutions come from organizations such as the Maternal Mental Health Policy Committee, the Utah YWCA, Comunidad Materna en Utah, postpartum doulas and mobile health care delivery vans, which go into some of Utah’s maternity care “deserts” to provide support.

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Lily Griego, regional director of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, also spoke, noting that it was rare for federal employees to weigh in on state legislative matters, but maternal mental health is a top priority for the Biden-Harris administration. “We are losing moms to preventable causes,” she said, noting it’s worst among women of color.

There is a Utah-specific referral and resource network available at maternalmentalhealth.utah.gov and a national Maternal Mental Health hotline available for calls and texts in English and Spanish at 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS.

Water shortages

In addition to maternal mental health, other bills have begun moving. This week, one water bill passed out of the House and is headed to the Senate. HB150, Emergency Water Shortages Amendments, addresses what happens under a “temporary water shortage emergency,” such as might result from an earthquake or terrorist acts. Drought does not count as an emergency under this bill. When Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, was presenting the bill on the House floor, he said there had been 18 meetings over the interim. “This bill has been through the water gauntlet,” he said, adding “We’ve rode this horse for quite a long time. It’s tired and I’m tired.” The bill passed 70-1.

A bill that would regulate access to social media for minors was modified substantially. It no longer requires minors to provide proof of age or proof of parent status, but instead allows minors to sue social media companies through a private right of action. Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, the bill’s sponsor, said that if the bill becomes law, then it would “create a legal assumption that social media use is harmful to minors.” It now goes to the Senate for consideration. A separate bill being sponsored by Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, that would prevent social media companies from allowing minors on their sites, died in the Senate.

As the legislative session is now in the second half of its 45-day stretch, committee hearings are being held twice per day to give bills a public hearing. While some bills are still being written, it’s likely that if they’re not already numbered and written, they won’t be heard this year. To follow along, go to le.utah.gov.

Holly Richardson is the editor of Utah Policy and invites readers to subscribe for a daily newsletter summary of Utah politics and policies.