As the legislative session concluded Friday night, Utah legislators passed a record number of bills and spent a record amount of money. There were bills on water, air quality, housing, taxes, education, elections and liquor. There were bills affecting local municipalities, a bill on bees, bills on fentanyl test strips and bills designating a new state flag, a new state crustacean and a new state mushroom.

In this column, I’d like to touch on some of the bills that impact Utah families (although arguably, they all do).

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Pregnancy and birth

Let’s start at the very beginning with pregnancy-related bills. First, the tax omnibus bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, that passed at the end of the session includes a provision for women to claim an additional dependent the year their baby is born, and bumped up the earned income tax credit in Utah. A separate bill by Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan, adds a $1,000 tax credit per child for families who meet certain income requirements, and who have a child older than 1 and younger than 4. A bill that would have allowed pregnant women to use the carpool lane passed out of the House, but failed to pass out of the Senate transportation committee.

A bill that would cover mothers on Medicaid for a year after the birth of their child passed and was funded in the state budget. The bill also increases the number of women who qualify for family planning services through Medicaid. A bill that would have allowed more mothers to qualify for Medicaid during their pregnancies and a bill that would have allowed Medicaid to cover doula services both failed. Rep. Ashlee Matthews, D-West Jordan, ran a bill instructing the state insurance plan, Public Employees Health Program, to cover doulas, licensed direct-entry midwives and freestanding birth centers. That bill passed with only one “no” vote over the entire process.

Abortion was also discussed on Utah’s Capitol Hill and a bill to close all abortion clinics in Utah, moving legal abortions to a hospital-only setting, passed the legislature and is expected to be signed by the governor. The bill, HB467, also removes the rape and incest exemption after 18 weeks. Providers who perform or induce an abortion outside of the hospital setting and newly-defined parameters will be engaged in “unprofessional conduct” and can lose their licenses.

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Education

Not only did education receive the most funding ever, but substantive policy changes were also made. First, a $6,000 teacher salary bump was paired with the “Utah Fits All” scholarship that allows for up to $8,000 to be used by families for nonpublic school options, including private school, home school and other for-fee options. A separate bill ties the teacher pay increase to the weighted pupil unit and both will now increase together.

After years of trying, optional full-day kindergarten is now a reality in Utah. Sponsored by Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, this bill will fund full-day kindergarten in school districts across the state. It also allows for a half-day option if parents request it.

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High school seniors can now wear culturally and religiously appropriate graduation regalia. That means wearing a keffiyeh, or traditional Arabic scarf, symbolic Native American regalia like feathers or beaded dress, and traditional Pacific Islander attire. High school athletes can also wear culturally and religiously appropriate clothing when competing, including leggings under shorts and hijab.

A bill titled “Individual Freedom in Public Education” instructs local education agencies, including teachers, principals, administrators and more to teach individual freedom and unalienable rights. Those rights include the idea that meritocracy and a hard work ethic are not racist and that no individual bears responsibility for actions of other members of the same race or sex. The bill also prohibits the education agencies from attempting to persuade students or other personnel to any point of view contrary to point of view laid out in the bill. This bill passed both bodies and is awaiting the signature of the governor.

A bill requiring local education agencies with libraries to provide an online platform for parents to view information about books their child checked out passed. However, a bill requiring course content transparency, and two bills relating to “sensitive materials” failed to pass.

Finally, school grades have gone away. Sponsored by Rep. Doug Welton, R-Payson, a teacher in Utah County, the bill gets rid of the A-F letter grades, which were based largely on standardized tests. The bill passed unanimously and had broad support from the education community.

Other bills

Other bills that will or could have had an impact on families: Observing Halloween on the last Friday of October failed to pass. Two social media bills addressing minors passed the legislature, and Gov. Spencer Cox has promised he will sign them. One requires parental permission plus age verification for a minor to open a social media account and once opened, requires social media companies to restrict who can message a minor. The other bans social media companies from “using a design or a feature” that would cause a minor to become addicted and allows for a “private right of action” to sue the social media company.

Finally, a couple of important domestic violence bills passed this year. One requires all law enforcement agencies in the state to perform a lethality assessment when responding to a domestic violence call. The other bill creates a task force to gather information on lethality assessments, including data collection and pertinent information. The task force will report back to the legislature each year with information on the prevalence of domestic violence cases in the state, as well as specific incidents of stalking, strangulation, violence in the presence of children and threats of homicide or suicide.

Cox has until March 23 to sign into law, veto or let pass into law without his signature the entire complement of 575 bills.