Policies affect children—but children don’t vote. At Voices for Utah Children, we have spent the 2015 legislative session raising our voices on behalf of children, informing policymakers that government can and should act to keep kids safe and help them succeed.
This session, we are pleased to report that Utah lawmakers passed several bills that will help keep children safe, support healthy early childhood development, improve educational opportunity, and preserve family security by prohibiting employment discrimination. But of course, the news is not all good.
Keeping Children Safe
- Legislators closed loopholes and prevented felons from working as child care providers. (Sen. Allen Christensen, R-Morgan, Summit, Weber Counties, SB 12)
- The statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases was eliminated. (Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, HB 277)
- A pilot Suicide Crisis Line for youth was expanded into a permanent program with a new app for text support. (Sen. Daniel Thatcher R-Salt Lake, Tooele Counties, SB 175)
Supporting Healthy Early Childhood Development
- The Children's Hearing Aid Pilot Program was converted to a permanent program to help young children get high-quality hearing aids as soon as the diagnosis of hearing loss is made. (Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, HB 18)
- $1 million in one-time funding, using federal funds, was allocated to Nurse-Family Partnership, an evidence-based home visiting program that has been shown to save taxpayer money by reducing rates of preterm birth and crime. (Rep. Ed Redd, R-Logan, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield & Sen. Allen Christensen, R-Morgan, Summit, Weber Counties)
Protecting Families from Employment Discrimination
- Employment discrimination against breastfeeding mothers was prohibited and public employers were required to provide accommodation for breastfeeding and pumping. (Rep. Justin Miller, D-Salt Lake City, HB 105 & HB 242)
- Employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people was prohibited. (Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-Washington County & Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Davis County, SB 296)
Improving Education for Utah students
- Legislators established new education revenues that will generate $75 million annually for public schools in areas with lower property values, helping equalize per-pupil funding between richer and poorer school districts. (Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-Salt Lake County, SB-97)
- An American Indian-Alaskan Native Education Commission was established to identify educational needs of this community and develop a plan to address these needs. (Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, HB 33)
Reducing General Fund Earmarks
- Legislators took important first steps toward reducing the state’s reliance on earmarks to fund transportation. This is important to children because these earmarks currently divert over half a billion dollars of General Fund money away from education, public safety and social programs every year (and still rising). (Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, HB 362)
Good, but Could Have Been Better
Thousands of teachers, parents and students rallied at the Capitol to encourage the Legislature to increase per pupil public education spending by 6.25%, as proposed by Governor Herbert. Utah currently ranks last in the nation for per pupil spending. The Legislature did raise per pupil spending, but only by 4%.
Utah became the 26th state to pass a resolution calling for federal Constitutional Convention to pass a balanced budget amendment. If 34 states pass such a resolution, the convention will take place. A federal balanced budget amendment would likely lead to sudden, severe cuts in federal, state, and local budgets, inevitably affecting children, especially children from low-income families. Moreover, the convention could result in other unanticipated changes to the U.S. Constitution. (Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, HJR7)
Governor Herbert’s Healthy Utah plan, which would have helped low-income, working families to access private health insurance using federal tax dollars that Utahns have already paid, passed the Senate but was killed in the House of Representatives. (Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Salt Lake City, SB 164) House leadership supported a plan that would require more state money and offer many people primary care only instead of health insurance. (Rep. Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, HB 446) For now, Utah will continue doing nothing to help Utahns in the coverage gap. Governor Gary Herbert has announced that he will call the legislature to a special session to vote again on extending health care coverage to Utah's low-income poor after July 31, so keep contacting your legislators to express your support for Healthy Utah!
The work is not done! A Love Utah Give Utah gift to Voices for Utah Children will help us keep working to ensure that all Utah children are able to reach their full potential in life and contribute to Utah’s future prosperity. Learn more: bit.ly/loveUTchildren