Utah welcomes new house members in both parties

Nov 15, 2022, 2:00 PM | Updated: Nov 16, 2022, 6:05 pm
The Utah 2023 Legislative Session started out with a bang, with lawmakers putting their first focus...
FILE: Exterior of the Utah Capitol (Annie Barker/Deseret News)
(Annie Barker/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Although nationally Republicans did not see the red wave they may have expected, Republicans in Utah saw several wins among house members. 

With three new party members on each side of the legislature and a full female line-up in the Utah Democrat’s leadership, Utah is welcoming new and old faces to the state’s legislature. 

Prior to the 2022 mid-terms, Republicans held 58 seats in Utah’s house. Now they hold 61, while Democrats hold the other 14.

With Republicans in the super-majority, both Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, R – District 15,  and Sen. Minority Leader Luz Escamilla, D – District 1, had advice for new members — to build relationships through trust and respect.

Republicans in the majority

With a rare third-term re-election, Wilson told KSL NewsRadio that regardless of the party, they have great public servants who are ready to get to work. Although he admits he is glad to see support for his specific republican proposals. 

Wilson’s top priorities for 2023 pertain to both the economy and conserving Utah’s water. 

Specifically, Wilson told KSL NewsRadio, he’d like to see Utahns spending more money on the things they care about rather than sending money to the state capitol. 

Consequently, a lot of Wilson’s proposed legislation for the 2024 session will involve housing costs, tax relief and tax cuts in addition to funding for water conservation. 

The Democrat agenda

Although she has worked in state legislative positions for over a decade, Sen. Luz Escamilla is taking on a new role this term as Senate Minority Leader. 

Though Democrats are in the minority, Escamilla told KSL NewsRadio they still have a high percentage of bills that pass. She also said many solutions of change are democratic ideas. Examples include the Fair Housing Act, Medication for Inmates, Child Support Statute of Limitations and Expanded Background Checks for Firearm Transfers. 

In a unique-to-Utah update, all of the Democrat leadership positions are held by women this term. Additionally, four out of five Democrats in the house are women. 

Escamilla said she feels this absolutely affects proposed policies. 

“Voices of women and lives of women (are) represented in our conversations,” said Escamilla. “Conversations include women in the workforce with children, wage issues, and even lactation areas.” 

Escamilla’s top priorities for the 2023 legislative session pertain to insurance coverage for children, food security, and more effective access to medical care. She used as an example the medical gaps she’s observed that involve prisoners who are reentering Utah communities.

Additionally, maternal health and policies for medical professionals who are a part of the critical health for women and children are at the top of Escamilla’s priority list. 

Working together, building consensus

There is some concern about how smoothly legislation will run when one party takes a supermajority. 

How will both sides build consensus? Speaker Wilson said things won’t be much different. There will be a lot of collaboration and “talking it out”. 

“We almost always stick the landing in terms of getting to a spot that people can support,” said Wilson.

One way Wilson feels he assures this is by his duty to appoint constituents to committee chairs.

Every legislative member is assigned a committee in which they have expressed an interest.  Members then make sure that the most important issues and policies are discussed by the committee. 

Escamilla agrees that regardless of their party or majority, members are passionate about the committees they lead and the policies for which they advocate. 

Additionally, both Escamilla and Wilson said learning the legislative process by listening to the seasoned vets during their first session is their best advice for newcomers. 

Wilson told KSL NewsRadio that he can imagine the frustration of being in the minority. As a result, he wants to make sure the voices of Democrats are heard. 

“Some of my best friends in the legislature come from the minority party,” Wilson said. “About 90% of votes we have in the legislature are bipartisan.”

Similarly, Escamilla, as a member of the minority party, said members can respectfully agree and disagree. She pointed out good legislation can take years to pass. During those years, Democrats and Republicans are searching for common ground. 

The 2023 Utah Legislative session begins in January. 

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Utah welcomes new house members in both parties