Utah Governor outlines progress made during 2023 legislative session as lawmakers adjourn

The Utah Legislature adjourned its 2023 session on Friday, and Gov. Spencer Cox held a press conference outlining the legislative progress that was made. 

 

 

The governor’s office acknowledged the progress that was made on the health front, including efforts to protect children’s mental health by enforcing regulations on social media companies and expanding postpartum coverage.

The session was defined by tax breaks and credits for families and low-income households, investments in affordable housing, and a ban on gender-affirming procedures on children

The Republican supermajority passed more than 575 bills over 45 days of the session, including 136 bills on the last day. 

“It’s been a long 45 days for sure,” Cox said. “But it has been a very fruitful 45 days and I think 45 days that the citizens of Utah can be very proud of. We want to thank the legislature for their perseverance. These are very difficult times for legislators and their families … it’s hard to really understand the toll 45 days take on them and their families. We’re grateful for their service.”

Among the measures passed last week is Senate Bill 133, which would extend Medicaid postpartum coverage to from 60 days 12 months. House Bill 429 would require access to postpartum care and certain social services for incarcerated new mothers. 

Earlier in the session, the legislature advanced Medicaid coverage provisions for dental services, doulas, and recreational therapy.

Legislators also approved an extension to the Behavioral Health Crisis Response Commission and the initiation of an Assertive Community Treatment program addressing ongoing support for Utahns with severe mental illness

House lawmakers approved Senate amendments to HB 476 last week. Under the measure, abortions would only be performed in hospitals and approved clinics that met the safety standards of hospitals. The bill also revises the definition of abortion in statute to address concerns over liability by providers in the state. 

Lawmakers also advanced HB 297 to the governor’s desk last week, which would expand services for victims of rape and require providers to verify the victim has reported the incident to law enforcement before an abortion can be performed. 

Cox said he intends to soon review and sign the two abortion-related measures. Once the bills are signed, the state will no longer make exemptions for rape and incest after 18 weeks of pregnancy, ban abortion clinics from operating, and starting in May, stop issuing licenses for abortion clinics. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Utah sent a letter to the governor on Friday, urging him to veto HB 467. It expressed concerns the law will diminish the “availability of safe and affordable healthcare” and restrict the right of Utahns to decide if and when to have a child. 

Testifying against the bill before the House Judiciary Committee last month, Marina Lowe, legislative and policy counsel for ACLU Utah, spoke in opposition to the bill. 

“Rather than allowing the court process to play out … HB 467 attempts to constructively circumvent the judicial process,” Lowe testified. “And in particular, I’d like to draw your attention to the de-licensure provision, which will effectively convert Utah hospitals from Cache County to Washington County into abortion clinics. And so we would urge you to reject this bill.” 

In a statement to State of Reform, Planned Parenthood Association of Utah (PPAU) said its eight health centers in Utah will remain open and continue to provide a wide range of sexual and reproductive health services. PPAU said the bill aims to put abortion out of reach for Utahns, cutting off access to critical care for thousands of people. 

“HB 467 would functionally eliminate access to most abortion in the state by preventing abortion clinics from providing this care and prohibiting qualified, experienced practitioners from providing any abortion outside of a hospital or similar setting,” PPAU said. “Most hospitals in Utah do not provide abortion right now, except in the most extreme circumstances, and the proponents of this bill have designed the legislation to discourage hospital providers from doing so.”

PPAU said it will continue to “use every tool available” to protect the constitutional rights of Utahns and preserve their access to safe, legal abortions.

Cox will have until March 23rd to sign or veto any bills.