Natalie Cline controversy: Utah House takes first step toward possible action against embattled state school board member

“This will allow the Legislature to start a process that is fair and deliberative,” Rep. Robert Spendlove said on the Utah House floor on Friday morning.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. The Utah House took the first step towards a possible official condemnation of Natalie Cline on Friday.

The Utah House took the first step toward a possible official condemnation of Natalie Cline on Friday but has not taken action toward impeaching the embattled Utah State Board of Education member. Cline ignited a firestorm of controversy this week when she incorrectly suggested a female high school athlete could be transgender.

With no debate, the Utah House decided in a unanimous voice vote on Friday morning to draft a resolution in response to Cline’s actions, which could include impeachment. The language of that resolution is not yet available.

“This will allow the Legislature to start a process that is fair and deliberative. This allows us to consider all options within our constitutional authority,” Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, said on the House floor, explaining the move.

“This is the responsibility of the Legislature,” Spendlove added.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, left, and House Speaker Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, answer questions during their weekly House media availability at the Utah Capitol on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024.

House Speaker Mike Schultz said Friday that all options are on the table when it comes to dealing with Cline, including possible impeachment proceedings, but his hope is the process won’t get that far.

“If I was in her (Cline’s) shoes, I would probably resign,” Schultz said. “We all make mistakes. We can all think of multiple legislators that have resigned over the past several years because they made mistakes.”

While he suggested Cline should step down, Schultz said he was conflicted about whether the Legislature should pull the trigger on impeachment.

“I think there’s a whole bunch of reasons to impeach, and there’s other reasons not to impeach, and that’s the process we’re going through,” the House leader said. “I have mixed emotions on both sides of it right now. When you impeach, you take the will of the voters away. On the flip side, you have to hold people accountable for their actions.”

[Read more: Should Utah’s trans sports commission be more secretive after lawmaker shared private details?]

The move by lawmakers to deal with the situation comes with just 14 working days remaining in the 2024 session.

“The last thing I want to do is deal with this right now, to be quite honest with you,” Schultz said. “But we have an obligation. It’s our job, and we will make the time.”

Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said his chamber was coordinating with the House on any response to Cline’s actions.

“We’re just looking at trying to work through the issues,” Adams said. “They (the House) didn’t do anything that, in my understanding, would focus on impeachment. We are further down the road today than we were yesterday related to some resolution on how to respond to Natalie Cline.”

While Adams says impeachment proceedings aren’t imminent, there’s nothing that would prevent the House from going down that road if they choose.

Senate Majority Whip Ann Millner, R-Ogden, acknowledged the anger arising from Cline’s actions but said lawmakers want to make sure they don’t make any rash decisions.

“We have processes. We’re consulting with our legal staff about what’s appropriate, what’s not appropriate, by statute and by the constitution of the state,” Millner said. “Remember, this student-athlete and her parents have feelings here. But we have to balance that with making sure that we’re doing this in the right way.”

Utah law specifies that any impeachment proceedings against a state officer must start with a resolution in the House of Representatives. If two-thirds of House members vote to impeach, a trial will be held in the Utah Senate. The elected official is removed from office if two-thirds of Senators vote to convict.