Utah Legislature will tackle critical race theory and gun rights after all

Lawmakers pressured Cox to include the two topics on the special session agenda. He declined so they will appear as resolutions.

(Laura Seitz | Deseret News, pool) Gov. Spencer J. Cox provides updates on the ongoing pandemic during the weekly briefing at the Capitol on in May 2021.

Earlier this week, Gov. Spencer Cox declined to place two bills on the special session agenda. One sought to ban critical race theory in schools and the other would have made Utah a “Second Amendment sanctuary” state.

But Utah lawmakers will still discuss those topics Wednesday, calling themselves into session after they finish their work with the special session.

[Robert Gehrke writes critical race theory deserves a thoughtful public debate and we’re not getting it]

Senate Republicans announced Tuesday that they plan resolutions on the two issues. House Republicans will make a similar move.

Lawmakers seem to be defying Cox by bringing the issues to the floor Wednesday over his objections. But they are only resolutions and cannot be enforced, which means the resolutions will have little impact.

They also don’t need Cox’s signature, so there is no potential for him to veto.

Critical race theory, which maintains that racism is embedded in the history of the United States, has become a target of the political right in recent months.

The concept is not currently taught in Utah’s K-12 schools. Republicans in the Legislature wanted to make sure that never happens, with a ban on the concept.

“Utahns, not federal bureaucrats, must remain in control of what is taught in our schools,” House Speaker Brad Wilson said in a statement.

Lawmakers also wanted to include a proposal allowing the state to either refuse to enforce or ignore any new federal gun laws or regulations, making Utah a Second Amendment sanctuary state.

Lawmakers pushed Cox hard to include the two topics on the special session agenda, which he controls. Cox said in a letter to lawmakers that the two concepts need more time and discussion.

“I can’t remember these types of hot-button issues ever being put on a special session call,” he wrote.

The Utah Constitution allows lawmakers to add additional items to the list via a two-thirds vote, which the GOP has in both chambers.

Wednesday’s special session is primarily to accept and distribute $1.6 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money, which is headed to Utah as part of the third wave of stimulus money.

Legislators plan to spend about a third of those funds at the outset.

Lawmakers will also move Wednesday to ban future mask mandates in Utah schools.