SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Spencer Cox called Utah lawmakers to meet in a special legislative session on Wednesday, May 19. But he elected not to include two hot button issues on the agenda: making Utah a Second Amendment Sanctuary, and address Critical Race Theory in schools.
The special session will primarily focus on what Cox’s office described in a release as “crucial budget issues;” specifically, legislators will decide whether to accept federal funds through the American Rescue Plan Act, and how to appropriate those funds.
Special session addresses budget, provides legislative fixes
In a letter to lawmakers, Cox listed 22 action items for them to consider in special session.
Other than the federal funds, the agenda items include making changes to the state’s budgets for fiscal years 2021 and 2022, amendments to a number of regulations, and updates to bills passed in the 2021 regular session.
Also on the agenda: updated eligibility requirements for police officers, modified deadlines for the independent commission responsible for redistricting.
Cox also directs lawmakers to consider a resolution to condemn acts of anti-Asian hate and celebrate the heritage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Two items of note specifically address how the pandemic impacted schools. He asks the legislature to authorize UPSTART funds to help kindergarten students whose learning may have been affected by the pandemic, and in another item, to prohibit “certain face mask requirements in K-12 schools.”
Additionally, he asks lawmakers to extend his state of emergency for drought conditions.
Second Amendment Sanctuary, Critical Race Theory absent from special session agenda
In excluding pushes to ban Critical Race Theory from schools and making Utah a Second Amendment Sanctuary during the special session, Cox said he looked to precedent set by former governors.
“Historically, Utah’s governors have only used the power to call special sessions for emergencies, time deadlines, issues of broad consensus or to fix technical mistakes in the code,” Cox wrote.
He went on to say he chose to include some items, after working with legislative leaders, that “arguably could have waited” until the next regular session.
“However, there are two issues that I felt would benefit from more time, thought, dialogue and input: Critical Race Theory, and the Second Amendment Sanctuary State. While I’m sure someone might be able to point out differently, I can’t remember these types of hot-button issues ever being put on a special session call. It’s not that I disagree with the desire to act, but doing it the right way — and at the right time — will lead to better legislation.”
Critical Race Theory under the microscope
Around a dozen states have considered bills targeting Critical Race Theory, and Idaho’s governor signed one such bill into law earlier this month. Proponents of the theory argue that it’s important to view both America’s past and present in light of racist policies that continue to affect communities of color, in everything from who gets pulled over by police to who can buy a home. Opponents argue it teaches children to feel shame and guilt over their identities or even to hate their countries.
In an opinion piece for the Deseret News, one of Utah’s congressmen, Republican Rep. Chris Stewart, spoke out against Critical Race Theory.
“Utah’s educational system does not exist to rewrite history through the lens of ‘wokeness,'” Stewart wrote.
Last fall, a number of educators spoke out after then-President Donald Trump ordered federal agencies to stop funding anti-racist training. Two professors, David DeMatthews and Terri Watson, expressed their views in an opinion piece for Education Week.
“Critical race theory, which presupposes that racism is embedded within society and institutions, is not propaganda or anti-American; it is a toolkit for examining and addressing racism and other forms of marginalization,” they wrote. “Rather than rejecting this toolkit, the Department of Education should ensure principals and teachers learn how it can be applied to address long-standing educational inequities.”
Second Amendment Sanctuary laws growing in popularity
States passing legislation to become Second Amendment Sanctuaries prohibit their local or state law enforcement officers from enforcing federal firearm restrictions. Montana and Arizona became the latest states to do so earlier this year. Prior to that, local, not state governments, led the charge. Today over 1,000 localities nationwide have passed Second Amendment Sanctuary resolutions.
Essentially, supporters argue that federal gun safety laws and restrictions violate their constitutional right to bear arms.
However, some legal scholars argue that because federal courts have established some limits on constitutional guarantees, it is the federal case law that takes precedence over state or local, not the other way around.
The first such Second Amendment Sanctuary law to face a legal challenge currently awaits its hearing in an Oregon court.