Both chambers of the Utah Legislature voted overwhelmingly Thursday to pass a resolution of formal censure against State School Board member Natalie Cline.

Later in the day, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed HCR18, adding his stamp to the concurrent resolution that condemns Cline for using social media to bully a child and “reprehensibly question(ing) the student’s gender publicly and without evidence.”

The bill passed unanimously in the Utah Senate and by a 71-2 vote in the House, with Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, and Rep. Brett Garner, D-West Valley City, dissenting. Lyman is a Republican candidate for governor.

Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, sponsor of HCR18, said Cline’s actions are “so outrageous, so abhorrent, and so reprehensible that we must act. Elected officials are put in a position of trust by their constituents. Elected school board officials are charged to provide safe and civil school environments where students are treated with dignity and respect and bullying is not tolerated.”

Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy who sponsored the House Concurrent Resolution Condemning and Censuring State School Board Member Natalie Cline, speaks to the resolution in the House chamber at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, said Cline is the state school board representative for his community. “I’m disappointed. I’m embarrassed and I’m disgusted by what happened in this situation,” he said.

“There is no other option for us than to take out this time and call out what we see is real evil,” Teuscher said.

Rep. Carol Moss, D-Holladay, said the events “cut to my heart when this happened.”

The girl who was targeted has a strong support system “but it doesn’t mean that she won’t suffer irreparable emotional harm because of this. To think that someone in a position of public trust over education over schools and over students would make a statement that was so despicable and harmful is just beyond my understanding. I do wish this had been something even stronger but I’m happy we’re taking this step.”

After the resolution’s passage in the House, the representatives rose to their feet to offer a standing ovation to the girl who was targeted and her family for exhibiting grace and dignity throughout the ordeal.

Asked for her reaction, Rachel van der Beek, the teen’s mother, said in a text, “It’s not the resolution we were hoping for, but it’s a step in the right direction. We feel like there was a lot of love and support towards our daughter in that decision.”

In an op-ed published in the Salt Lake Tribune, the van der Beeks wrote that Cline should be impeached.

“We’ll wait and see if Ms. Cline follows through with what her peers on the state board, the governor, members of the Legislature and thousands of parents recommend she does and resigns. It might send a bigger message if the people of Utah have had their eyes opened a little more as a result of this and don’t re-elect her. Our state and our children deserve to be represented by people we can trust.”

The resolution was carried in the Senate by Senate Majority Whip Ann Millner, R-Ogden.

“We’re really in uncharted waters here. We can’t find any example of the state legislature ever taking an action, adopting a censure resolution. But Ms. Cline’s actions are egregious. and disheartening, which is why we’re taking such serious steps today,” Millner said.

Millner, a former university president, said it was important to support the Utah State Board of Education, which voted Wednesday night to censure Cline and strip her of most of her duties.

“Our board members hold the position of public trust, and are charged with supporting and advocating for Utah students. And unfortunately in the last week, state school board member Natalie Cline used her social media platform to the detriment of a child who is a student in our schools,” she said

The Legislature’s actions will be recorded in its official journal and record and will set a precedent for future legislative action, Millner said.

Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Logan, speaks to the House Concurrent Resolution Condemning and Censuring State School Board Member Natalie Cline in the House chamber at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

“Elected officials are put in a position of trust by their constituents. Elected school board officials are charged to provide safe and civil school environments where students are treated with dignity and respect and bullying is not tolerated. Mrs. Cline violated the public trust when she reprehensibly attacked a young woman on social media, exposing that young woman to threats of violence and harassment and bullying,” Millner said.

After the bill’s passage, Millner also remarked that the girl and her family have handled the difficult ordeal admirably.

“This has been a very, very hard time for them,” she said, adding, “They have been thoughtful. They have been willing to engage in conversations. I’m not quite sure I would have been so levelheaded through a process like this if this were my own child.”

She thanked them and expressed her “condolences for having had to go through this. This is difficult, and it’s not over for them I know but I just want them to know that we stand with them.”

Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, expressed appreciation “or the swift and decisive action in passing this resolution.”

The Senate retains the option of impeachment “should similar circumstances arise in the future from this person,” Escamilla said.

“We are glad that we could come together on this and stand united in censoring an individual who has a lengthy history of hateful and discriminatory rhetoric including homophobic, transphobic and racist comments. This will send a clear message that such behavior is not tolerated in our state. No child should be subjected to hate and bullying, especially by someone in a position of trust and leadership,” she said.

Late Thursday afternoon, the governor’s office released a statement indicating he had signed HCR18.

“The vast majority of Utahns agree that Natalie Cline’s behavior was unacceptable. I’ve spoken with the student’s parents and I’m heartbroken for this family. We agree with the actions of both the State Board of Education and Legislature, and we hope the voters will hold her equally accountable this fall,” Cox said.

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State school board urges member Natalie Cline to resign, levels other sanctions

Following the vote, House Democrats said they appreciated censure imposed on Cline, but “we firmly assert that it is not enough. Impeachment is a vital mechanism for upholding accountability and ensuring that those who betray the public trust are held responsible for their actions. It is essential for our democracy and the protection of our communities, particularly our youth.”

Alliance for a Better Utah also called for lawmakers to do more.

“Natalie Cline should not be allowed to remain in office. She has repeatedly violated the public trust that she swore an oath to uphold. Intentionally targeting a student and inciting a torrent of hateful harassment and bullying should be her last act as a school board member,” said Jeff Merchant, executive director of Alliance for a Better Utah in a statement.

“While censure is a fine first step, the Legislature’s failure to remove Ms. Cline is a failure to protect Utah’s children and stand up for the ‘Utah way.’ Legislators have an obligation and duty to show Utahns that this type of behavior by an elected official will not be tolerated. Thousands of Utahns, including the parents of the targeted student, have called for Cline’s removal — impeachment is the appropriate course of action,” Merchant said.

The Utah Legislature’s actions come a day after the Utah State Board of Education voted unanimously for a resolution that also included formal censure, removed Cline from all standing committees and any additional board committee assignments. She is also prohibited from placing items on upcoming board agendas and barred from attending any board advisory committee meetings.

The sanctions become effective immediately through Dec. 31, 2024. The sanctions were the maximum the board could level under its bylaws.

Cline can still attend and vote in board meetings. If she is reelected to the board’s District 9 seat in the southwest quadrant of Salt Lake County, the sanctions will be lifted.

Cline faces Republican challenger Amanda Bollinger and Democrat William Shiflett in the state board race.

Earlier Thursday, Cox, speaking during the PBS governor’s monthly press conference Thursday morning, said Cline should step down.

He said the events also suggest that it may be time that the governor appoint people to the state school board opposed to electing them.

“There’s a reason that almost every other state in the nation does not have an elected school board,” Cox said.

Most Utahns can’t name their elected state school board member, he said. “These are the types of elections where where people vote, and usually have no idea who they’re voting for,” he said

Creating an appointed state school board would require passage of a constitutional amendment by Utah voters, which Cox acknowledged is not likely to happen but it is something to ponder.

“In most every other state, governors appoint the school board because everyone knows who the governor is and everyone can hold the governor accountable. If the governor does a terrible job of appointing school board members, they can throw them out,” he said.