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Opinion: Dating app safety, postpartum depression, religious attire in athletics — your guide to the 2023 legislature

The 45 days of Utah’s legislative session will see hundreds of bills passed and billions of dollars spent.

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The Capitol is pictured in Salt Lake City on Friday Jan. 14, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” Attributed to Greek leader Pericles (495-429 BC)

Ready or not, like it or not, the 2023 legislative session begins next week, with pomp and ceremony. There will be musical numbers, the Pledge of Allegiance and an opening prayer, the swearing in of members and the adopting of rules governing the session. A bicameral body will be appointed to report to the Governor when they are officially organized and ready to do business. The Speaker of the House and President of the Senate will deliver opening day speeches, usually outlining their priorities and adding inspirational bits about Utah and the people who live here.  

As the first week unfolds, it will go at a somewhat “leisurely” pace, with the “easy” bills coming first. Usually, those are the ones that have been heard during interim committee meetings and have little to no opposition. 

Some of those bills this year include the following:

HB18, Online Dating Safety Amendments by Rep. Angela Romero requires, among other things, that online dating services clearly state that they do not conduct criminal background checks on users. If they do conduct criminal background checks, they must clearly disclose whether criminal convictions will be shown on the site. Online dating sites must also “clearly and conspicuously” provide a safety awareness notification. It passed out of the interim Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee with zero no votes.

Another bill with no dissent in its interim committee is Rep. Joel Briscoe’s HB21, Open and Public Meetings Act Amendments. This bill provides additional clarity on the responsibility of any public body holding meetings to allow for public comment during the meeting. 

HB23, Forensic Mental Health Amendments adds one seat to the Utah Substance Use and Mental Health Advisory Council, and specifies that it be the superintendent of the Utah State Hospital or his/her designee. This bill is being sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason in the House and Sen. Mike Kennedy in the Senate. 

Once those “easy” bills are out of the way, other bills will begin making their way into committee hearings and potentially, onto the floor. This session, like every session, will have its big bills and big issues. Those include the Great Salt Lake, housing (a very large bucket), tax reform (another large bucket), education (yet another large bucket), transgender issues and abortion.

There’s always a “sleeper” bill — some bill that suddenly takes off and gets a ton of attention. The year I was in the legislature, it was the “feral cat” bill, which inspired a very funny Twitter account of a cat commenting on the session. (The bill didn’t pass.) 

I’m often interested in bills that largely stay off the radar. Let me share some of the bills I’ll be following this year. 

Rep. Rosemary Lesser, a retired OB/GYN, is running two bills related to Medicaid coverage for pregnancy and for the postpartum period. HB85, Pregnancy Medicaid Coverage Amendments, would expand eligibility to pregnant women with household incomes of 200% or less of the federal poverty level or less. HB84, Postpartum Medicaid Coverage Amendments, would extend the recognized postpartum period to 12 months, rather than two. Women who have given birth can be diagnosed with postpartum depression, for example, any time in the first year.

Rep. Karen Kwan is running HB149, Student Graduation Attire Revisions which would allow all public school students to wear religiously or culturally significant items when they graduate. Rep. Steve Eliason is proposing an almost identical bill, HB191, Student Graduation Attire Amendments. HB163, Protecting Student Religious and Moral Beliefs Regarding Athletic Uniform Requirements, being run by Rep. Candice Pierucci, would allow students to wear clothing that is “consistent with the student’s religious or moral beliefs” in school athletic programs. If passed, this bill would allow the wearing of hijab, for example, or long-sleeved athletic shirts or leggings. 

Sen. Mike Kennedy is running a bill on beehives, Sen. McCay is running the bill to adopt the specific new state flag decided on over the interim, and Sen. Derrin Owens is running a bill that addresses the right to compensation when livestock is hit by a train. 

There are about 300 bills that are public right now. By the end of the session, somewhere around 1200 will be introduced and upwards of 500 will become new or updated laws. Billions of dollars will be spent. You can track and follow as many bills, committees and floor time as you like by going to the state’s legislative website: le.utah.gov. And buckle up — the 45 days of the session speed by, going at an ever-increasing pace until midnight on March 3 when it all comes to an abrupt halt. 

Holly Richardson is the editor of Utah Policy.