The Utah legislature wrapped up Friday night. Over 900 bills were introduced, and by the end of the night, almost 600 passed. Utah families will live under these laws, and while we might fairly say that all of the bills passed this year impact families, let’s highlight a few.

Family

A resolution about the “success sequence” passed this year. The success sequence is the three-pronged process of (1) completing at least a high school education; (2) obtaining full-time work; and (3) marrying before having children. The resolution, which is non-binding, encourages the State Board of Education to review its current academic standards for grades 6-12 and determine where the success sequence may be incorporated into those standards. It resolves that the State of Utah will promote initiatives to encourage people to create and sustain happy marriages, as well as enhancing access to quality employment opportunities.

A marriage bill made its way through the legislature this session that explicitly codifies that two individuals can marry in the state of Utah regardless of “race, ethnicity or national origin” of the parties and prohibits county clerks from refusing to perform a marriage. This bill is a preventative measure for Utah couples on the chance that the U.S. Supreme Court were to reverse the Loving v. Virginia case that allows interracial couples to marry.

Rep. Melissa Garff Ballard got a bill passed that instructs local education agencies to come up with paid parental leave policies that cover biological and adoptive parents and that is not more restrictive than parental leave available to state employees. The bill also makes it clear that the districts cannot be retaliatory toward any eligible parent who uses parental leave.

HB75 broadens parental leave for state employees and now includes foster parents. The bill also allows for parental leave to be used for postpartum recovery any time after 20 weeks of gestation, so parents who are grieving the loss of their baby or babies past mid-pregnancy can take advantage of that time.

For families of state employees who need help getting pregnant, SB35 changes a pilot insurance program to a permanent program covering some specific assistance, including in vitro fertilization.

Education

Education advocacy groups followed over 100 bills this session, meaning more than 1 in every 10 bills was related to education. Here are a couple of important ones.

Potty-training for kindergartners: Rep. Doug Welton, himself an educator, ran a bill to make potty training part of what’s expected for kindergarten readiness. There are exceptions for children with developmental delays, who have Individualized Education Plans, but otherwise, parents need to ensure their children know how to use the toilet before they go to school.

School safety: Several bills dealt with student safety at school, including Rep. Ashlee Matthews’ bill that deals with juvenile offenders being reintegrated back into their schools, especially if a victim is also at the same school. The big bill, though, was Rep. Ryan Wilcox’s bill on placing armed guards in each school. The schools either need to have a school resource officer, an armed security guard, an armed and trained employee or “school guardian.” The legislature also allocated $100 million of one-time money to get the program off the ground.

Summer meals: The Utah Legislature funded summer meals for K-12 students who qualify for free or reduced school lunch and breakfast. The total allocation is $27.1 million in a federal-state partnership. Utah put in $1.1 million.

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Why this Utah lawmaker wants kids to be potty trained to enroll in kindergarten

Domestic violence

Child custody amendments: The legislature did some heavy lifting on domestic violence again this year. Om’s Law passed Friday, the last day of the session. This bill directs the courts to consider domestic violence, and/or credible allegations of abuse in child custody cases and directs the courts to develop or recommend training to better understand domestic violence and its impacts. Additionally, this bill directs the courts to not remove a child from custody of a parent who is competent, protective, bonded to a child and not abusive.

Preventing child sexual abuse: This bill requires all K-6 schools to provide instruction on child sexual abuse and human trafficking awareness and the prevention of both. One in seven children in Utah is the victim of sexual abuse before they reach age 18. More than 90% of victims are abused by someone they know. This bill passed and is funded via a public-private partnership.

Child Care

Utah is in a child care crisis. Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson prioritized child care in their proposed 2025 budget, especially looking at a pilot program using a public-private partnership between businesses and the state. That bill did not pass. However, a bill by Rep. Susan Pulsipher did pass that would allow in-home daycares to have up to eight children, instead of six and still remain unlicensed. The bill also requires caregivers to pass a background check and limits the number of children age three and under to two.

Watch for additional work in this area through the interim and next legislative session.

Taxes

There are a number of bills impacting taxes this year. One is a reduction in the overall income tax rate, moving the rate from 4.65% to 4.55%. The impact on the average Utah family is expected to be a savings of around $65 annually.

Additionally, the child tax credit for Utah families with young children was expanded to include children who are at least one and up to four-years-old. This nonrefundable tax credit of $1,000 per child starts to go away as family incomes rise, phasing out as reported income rises above $53,000 for those filing joint returns or $43,000 for taxpayers filing as single or as the head of a household.

Office of Families

When the Cox-Henderson administration began in early 2021, they prioritized Utah’s families. In 2022, Gov. Cox announced the formation of a new Office of Families and hired Aimee Winder Newton as the senior advisor/director tasked with finding ways to strengthen families so children have better outcomes. This year, the Office of Families was officially made part of the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.

“Utah is a family-focused state and yet, we also know there is room for improvement. I’m grateful the Governor and the legislature continue to prioritize ways we can support families in Utah,” said Winder Newton.