Rep. Paul Ray, sponsor of Utah’s COVID ‘endgame’ bill, to leave Legislature for a new job at state health department

The Clearfield Republican will work in legislative affairs for the Utah Department of Health, and later with the new Department of Health and Human Services.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Smiling after a vote on a new Congressional District map is Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, in the House Chamber during a special legislative session, at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021.

Rep. Paul Ray, who spent the last two decades in the Utah House, is leaving the Legislature later this month for a position with the Utah Department of Health and later the new Utah Department of Health and Human Services.

Starting on Dec. 16, the Clearfield Republican will be the department’s new assistant director of legislative affairs, UDOH announced on Thursday.

“I am grateful to use my abilities, knowledge and connections within health and human services to continue to improve the lives of those in need as a public servant,” Ray said in a statement. “I will work closely with department leadership, the governor’s office and legislative officials in listening to their needs and priorities on behalf of the people we collectively serve.”

According to the announcement, Ray will also leave his role as chief executive of the Northern Wasatch Home Builders Association.

House Speaker Brad Willson said in that statement that the Legislature will feel Ray’s absence.

“He has been a pillar of the House of Representatives and a hardworking and dedicated member of our community,” the speaker said, adding that he wished Ray the best in his new role.

A 20-year veteran of the Utah House, Ray most recently helped spearhead the Legislature’s redistricting and election map-drawing effort. Gov. Spencer Cox approved the lawmaker’s maps, which critics have decried as gerrymandering.

He has also recently chaired the Social Service Appropriations Committee, the Veteran and Military Affairs Commission and the Criminal Code Revision Task Force.

Earlier this year Ryan sponsored HB 249 — Utah’s pandemic “endgame” bill, also signed into law by Cox — which lifted a statewide mask mandate in April.

“We’re trying to find a way to say we’re done. And I think this bill is what does that,” Ray told the House of his endgame legislation this spring. “We actually give our constituents the hope and the light that we’re just about through this.”

Ray will join the state health department as the agency looks to make massive and systemic changes within the organization.

UDOH will merge with the Utah Department of Human Services by next summer, creating a huge Department of Health and Human Services — a new agency that leaders in both departments say will streamline services and increase efficiency. This year, Ray co-sponsored legislation that led to the creation of the single department.

A recent legislative audit found that UDOH had developed a reputation as an “agency of no,” and could do better at fostering innovation and collaboration across state and local governments.

After the department merger this summer, Ray will stay on with DHHS to work on policy, according to the news release.

Davis County Republican Party will host a special election to fill Ray’s District 13 seat later this month.