As women continue to face a disproportionate effect of the COVID-19 economic downturn, The Salt Lake Tribune sent a survey earlier this month to each of Utah’s 104 state lawmakers, asking: What are you doing to help women as the Beehive State looks to successfully emerge from the coronavirus pandemic?
The Tribune heard back from 33 lawmakers, which is a little less than a third of total members. Seventeen Democrats and 16 Republicans, or 16 women and 17 men, filled out the survey.
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If your representative or senator is not included in this list, it means they have not responded. The Tribune will continue to update this reporting online.
Here is what the 33 lawmakers said they have been working on. Their answers have been condensed and edited for clarity.
Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan: Sponsoring HB219, which puts a cap on phone rates from county jails. “I’ve talked to many wives and mothers of inmates who can barely afford to communicate with their spouses/children,” she said.
Acton is also a co-sponsor of HB113, which would require a biological father to pay half of the out-of-pocket pregnancy costs for the woman carrying their unborn child, and HB302, a bill barring transgender girls from female K-12 sports.
“That bill is controversial but important to preserving women’s sports, which have made tremendous advances over my lifetime,” according to Acton.
Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton: “Since fall of 2020, I have pushed for all Utah K-12 schools to open. We heard from countless mothers through emails, phone calls and in-person visits urging us to help their children return to the classroom. ... As a result, we passed SB107 ..., which requires schools to be open at least four days a week. Not only does this provide the best learning environment for students, but it also gives many women the options to do what is best for themselves and their families.”
Adams added, “I firmly believe that when Utah women succeed, our state succeeds.”
Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield: Passed HB356, “which will provide jobs to rural women,” he said.
Albrecht said he “also championed the Rural Online Initiative a few years ago, which allows folks (to) be trained and to work online remotely.” He also supported education efforts this year.
Rep. Stewart Barlow, R-Fruit Heights: “I am the House sponsor for SB41 ... that aims to improve mental health access through telehealth services,” he said.
Rep. Gay Lynn Bennion, D-Cottonwood Heights: Sponsoring HB268, which addresses how much notice an owner must give before entering a renter’s residence. “Most of the stories coming to me are from women who have not felt safe in their apartments due to maintenance, repair workers or landlords entering without notice,” she said.
Bennion said she is focused on housing and homelessness. “I am concerned that high costs of housing are a negative impact on all of us, but especially lower-income individuals and families.”
Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City: “As a member of the housing affordability commission, I support the request ... to appropriate $15 million to the Olene Walker Housing Trust Fund for affordable housing.”
Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan: He has encouraged “immediate school openings ... since this seems to be the primary driver behind women leaving the workforce during the pandemic,” as well as “businesses to open so that the direct or indirect benefits of doing so can be felt by women and families.”
“Doing the above two things will also help families return to ‘normal,’ thus removing some of the reasons that have led to increased rates of domestic violence during the pandemic,” Christiansen said.
Rep. Clare Collard, D-Magna: Sponsoring HB284, which would incrementally raise the minimum wage in Utah to $15 by 2026. Briscoe also said he supports this.
Collard also sponsored HB351, which provides paid leave for state employees after the birth or adoption of a child.
Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City: Sponsoring HB304, which increases broadband infrastructure, digital access and digital equity. This will “ensure better remote employment opportunities for women who often must also balance working from home during the pandemic, combined with supporting online learning for their children,” she said.
Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City: “I am running legislation and [an] appropriations request to address some of the gaps and issues that directly impact women. As co-chair of the Women in the Economy Commission, I am working year round on issues that impact women and the economy,” she said.
Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City: “I continue to support and advocate for policies and bills that increase opportunities for women, including equal pay, increased political, education and employment opportunities, and increased affordable child care. One of the bills I am most proud of over the years is allowing campaign contributions to be used for child care while a political candidate is campaigning.”
Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper: “Child care is increasingly unavailable and unaffordable for families. ... I’m a co-sponsor of legislation to expand eligibility of child care assistance from the state. ... Last session, I sponsored two bills to encourage businesses to help pay for the costs of child care for employees. These bills faced significant opposition throughout the process despite having support from ... the business community. I also advocate for increased support for our public schools and affordable healthcare, which are critical for the success of women.”
Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay: Sponsoring SB10, which would create a template that would streamline the process for indigenous tribes or other community members to petition the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to change place names. “This bill started with the name ‘squaw,’ which is offensive” and used against women, she said.
She also ran SB64, which increases the penalty for repeat domestic violence offenders, and SB163, which would share campus crime data with students in an easily accessible way.
And Iwamoto has worked with “my colleagues of color in making sure there was testing availability, funding and other needs” met for communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Logan: “I secured $1.7 million for the 14 domestic violence centers in Utah, as well as $2.88 million for the 11 family centers” in the state. “This will help these centers provide services for women and their children (men, too, in certain cases) who have suffered during the pandemic.”
Johnson said he also “supported legislation related to health care.”
Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo: Sponsoring HB68, which would require landlords to identify all fees renters would be responsible for before they sign their lease. “I feel that this bill will result in more stable housing, which is crucial for job retention for women and better educational outcomes for children,” she said.
“A high priority of mine this session has been raising salaries for [Division of Child and Family Services] caseworkers, the majority of which are women. Women are able to stay in the workforce if their wages are sufficient to support themselves and their families. For many state workers, especially in social services, this is unfortunately not the case. The long hours that they put in for pay that falls below the poverty line pushes a lot of women out of this job,” she added.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City: Sponsoring HB205, which requires a background check for firearm sales. “By conducting background checks on all firearms transfers, we can keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them, like domestic abusers,” and King said this would “relieve the burden currently being felt by women in abusive situations, and can save lives not just of abuse victims, but of all Utahns.”
“Another bill that I hope will positively affect both women and girls moving forward is HB93,” he said, which “would streamline and strengthen the state’s youth suicide prevention programs in public schools.”
Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City: Sponsoring SB128, which would allow more Utahns to access family planning services through Medicaid.
“A recovery that doesn’t equally support women is no recovery at all,” he said. “... I will continue to push for access to affordable child care, resources for reproductive health and economic development initiatives that elevate women and LGBTQ+ community.”
Rep. Rosemary Lesser, D-Ogden: She supports bills raising the minimum wage and increasing child care eligibility.
“As soon as the legislative session ends, I will resume my role as a volunteer with Medical Reserve Corps giving vaccines in Weber County. Successful emergence from this pandemic will require the effort of all of us on many levels,” she said.
Rep. Ashlee Matthews, D-West Jordan: Sponsoring HB277, which continues the expanded access to child care subsidies that Utah implemented last year with federal emergency relief money. Multiple lawmakers who responded to the survey said they are co-sponsors and support this bill.
Rep. Mike Petersen, R-North Logan: “The coronavirus has impacted women, men, children and families. I’ve been focused on helping business succeed as they try to maintain and strengthen their presence. Helping business helps everyone as employment issues are resolved, income is increased, and contributions to support one another are increased. This focus helps women and families successfully emerge from the pandemic.”
Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman: Sponsoring HB301, which provides domestic violence and lethality assessment training for law enforcement officers.
“With schools being closed, and victims staying home with their abuser, it is harder for them to get the help and resources they need,” she said. Women are also out of work at higher rates than men, which she said “speaks to the importance of child care opportunities and economic recovery.”
Rep. Stephanie Pitcher, D-Salt Lake City: “I am working to defeat an effort to repeal the bail reform law which the legislature passed last session. ... This reform is particularly important at a time when domestic violence cases are at an all time high (due to COVID stressors, such as job loss, economic uncertainty, lack of pro-social activities, etc.). The bail reforms we passed last year have been effective in protecting victims in our criminal justice system, and I am committed to protecting and furthering these gains.”
Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan: “I am working on legislation to increase day care availability,” she said, and “I am working with other women to help women’s voices to be heard in policy.”
Riebe is also “lifting and supporting any legislation that highlights the plight of women,” and she is “bearing witness to the struggles of the female teachers ... to navigate and juggle a push to get back in school, yet stay safe and mitigate daycare needs.”
Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George: Sponsoring HB328, which helps people 26 and older with a financial grant to return to start or complete a college degree or certificate online.
“Many women in our state either didn’t start their post-high school education or weren’t able to complete a degree or certificate program because they left school in order to support a spouse and/or children. Because the grant is for online programs, it will be especially helpful in assisting women in rural Utah if they have internet access,” he said.
Snow also sponsored HB129, which would create an advisory board — made up of representatives across Utah who deal with domestic violence and sexual abuse — to implement statewide standards and policies for treating perpetrators, supporting victims and reducing the instances of domestic and sexual violence.
Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay: “While I don’t have legislation that specifically addresses women, my staff and I have helped women with issues related to eviction, unemployment, rental assistance and job loss.”
Rep. Jeff Stenquist, R-Draper: Sponsoring HB148, which addresses funding for an education campaign about the dangers of drinking while pregnant.
Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy: “My background is in criminal justice, so I try to focus heavily on domestic violence and sexual assault policy. I have tried to increase protections for victims, which is especially important this year since domestic violence rates have gone up and resources have been harder to come by. I also have supported bills dealing with small businesses and child care because women and minority-owned, small businesses have been harder hit.”
Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Bountiful: Sponsoring HB164, which he said makes “a tiny change” to the state’s abortion laws by letting women view the abortion information module on the Utah Department of Health’s website before a face-to-face visit, rather than having to go to a clinic first.
He also sponsored HB363, which would “make sure that women who are on Medicaid during their pregnancies don’t lose coverage in the postpartum period,” when a mother may be dealing with mental health issues, he said.
Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-West Valley City: “I am helping raise awareness of various situations that have uniquely impacted and continue to impact women during the pandemic, even as it is entering the vaccination phase. Women in my neighborhood have been primarily responsible for numerous nuclear and extended family needs, as well as support to spouses through the times of either or both of them working from home. Even conversations have helped other women and me realize and understand the ‘essential’ nature of so many jobs typically filled by women.”
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross: “I ran legislation again this year to provide maternity leave for state employees.”
Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Murray: “I will again draft legislation to address equal pay for equal work.”
Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City: Sponsoring HB56, which adds minority representation to the Intergenerational Poverty Advisory Committee. “Some of the women hardest hit from the pandemic have been women of color,” he said.
Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.