Legislative Update: Week 1

January 19 -22, 2021

The 2021 Legislative Session got underway on Tuesday, January 19. The dynamics of this session are significantly different due to the restrictions on gathering in-person. House Speaker Brad Wilson and Senate President Stuart Adams gave opening remarks acknowledging the extraordinary circumstances brought on by the pandemic. Both leaders called for increased unity as Utah looks to the future. Specifically, Speaker Wilson lauded the transformative impact the Utah College Access Advisors program has on students:

“Too often, our students graduate from high school without a clear understanding of what their talents are or how those talents can be developed into marketable skills. This is costing us dearly. In Utah, only 51% of high school graduates enroll in postsecondary education within three years — well below the national average. Let’s look for innovative ways to help students understand why they are learning what they are taught in school and help them see the possibilities that lie before them. College access advisors have the ability to make an outsized impact on our education system by helping students make more informed choices that put them on an efficient path to the knowledge and skills to build prosperous lives.”

In October 2020, the Utah Board of Higher Education approved a contribution from the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority to expand the Utah College Access Advisors to over 50 high schools for the next three academic years.

Newly inaugurated Governor, Spencer Cox, gave his first State of the State address, emphasizing priorities for social and education equity:


“Over the past year, we have had some critical conversations around race and justice. And if I can be so bold, putting up a sign or joining a rally isn’t enough. The best way we can bring to life the American promise — of liberty and justice for all — is to make sure that every single child, brown or Black, rural or urban, has the same opportunity as every other child.
You see, in Utah, it shouldn’t matter what side of I-15 you were born on — or in my case, on what side of the Payson-Dixon line you happen to live — every child in this state deserves a great education from a high-quality, well-compensated teacher. I ask you to join me in this effort.”

State Budget

The state has an $87 million surplus of ongoing funds and a $1 billion one-time surplus. Governor Cox and legislative leaders have acknowledged the potential for a tax cut, targeting senior citizens and retired military.

The Higher Education Appropriation Subcommittee (HEAS) held its introductory meeting on January 21. The Subcommittee has several new members, including a new House Chair, Representative Kelly Miles, serving alongside Senate Chair Keith Grover. Board Vice-Chair Aaron Osmond and Commissioner Dave Woolstenhulme updated the committee on the implementation of Utah’s newly combined system of higher education and governing board. Beginning July 1, 2020, Utah’s two systems of postsecondary education combined as a joint Utah System of Higher Education, overseen by a single governing Board, the Utah Board of Higher Education. This merger brought together the former Utah Board of Regents and the former Utah System of Technical Colleges under a single entity. The Commissioner and his staff reviewed the changes in duties and responsibilities of the Board and institutional boards of trustees. The Commissioner also presented the Board’s draft strategic plan and statewide attainment goals.

Legislation of Interest

SB 45, Higher Education Classes for Veterans by Rep. Weiler — allows veterans to audit classes at institutions of higher education tuition-free if the veterans are Utah residents. The bill received unanimous support from the Senate Education Committee and awaits final consideration by the Senate.

HB 159, Higher Education Student Speech Rights by Rep. Jordan Teuscher — establishes a specific threshold that determines when student-on-student speech becomes harassment as opposed to protected speech. It may put schools in conflict with existing federal guidance and definitions of harassment. The bill awaits a Standing Committee.