Critical race theory, Second Amendment sanctuary won’t be considered during this week’s legislative special session

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has issued a call for a special session on Wednesday, primarily so lawmakers can accept more than $1.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief money.

(Laura Seitz | Deseret News, pool) Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at a briefing on COVID-19 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 13, 2021.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox issued a call Monday for a special session later this week, primarily so lawmakers can accept more than $1.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief money.

In the wide-ranging session, lawmakers will also consider changes to local government building regulations, industrial hemp rules and the sale of electronic cigarettes and nicotine products. They will have the opportunity to fix technical errors or unintended consequences in several bills that passed in the spring legislative session.

They will also weigh a resolution celebrating the history and cultures of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, a bill that would prohibit face mask requirements in K-12 schools in Utah and an extension of the state drought emergency.

But two proposals that have received a lot of attention in the weeks leading up to the special session were noticeably absent from Wednesday’s agenda: A bill banning the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 classrooms, and a proposal to declare Utah a Second Amendment sanctuary.

Cox, explaining the decision in an email to legislators on Monday, said he thought those issues “would benefit from more time, thought, dialogue and input.”

“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,” he wrote in the letter. “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.”

Utah’s governors typically use their power to call a special session “for emergencies, time deadlines, issues of broad consensus or to fix technical mistakes in the code.”

Though his office received requests for “dozens and dozens” of bills they wanted added during the special session, Cox said he aimed to follow that precedent. Exceptions were made for several issues “that arguably could have waited until January” based on requests from Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson.

The governor said he’s spent weeks talking to parents, teachers and education officials about critical race theory — which he noted has been around for decades but has “gained recent notoriety.” He said he doesn’t believe it has a place in Utah’s curriculum.

“The difficulty, however, comes in defining terms and making sure that we are never stifling thought or expression — and that we make sure our children learn both the best of our past as well as our mistakes so we don’t repeat them,” he wrote.

“We must also make it abundantly clear that Utah is a place that welcomes everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or any other background,” he continued. “It is who we are, and it may be easy to lose sight of that during a knee-jerk debate.”

He said the state Board of Education has requested a delay on any action so they have time to “get it right” with parents and teachers. The Sutherland Institute is also working, he said, on “inclusive solutions and agree that we would be better off working towards a general session instead of a hastily constructed approach.”

Cox also addressed in his letter the calls to make Utah a Second Amendment Sanctuary, something proponents claim would allow the state to ignore new federal laws or regulations on firearms that lawmakers believe violate the constitutional right to bear arms.

The governor said he believes Utah already “is and always has been a Constitutional sanctuary state.”

He said he meets regularly with Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes to “discuss federal overreach and join lawsuits to hold the federal government accountable.” He also noted his support and signature earlier this year for a bill that allows Utahns to carry concealed weapons without a permit.

“And while the concept of a sanctuary state is an intriguing one, I believe, for all the reasons mentioned above, it is best left to a general session,” he said.

- Salt Lake Tribune reporter Bryan Schott contributed to this report