How the Utah Legislature wants to push back against the Biden administration in a special session

Utah’s part-time lawmakers will meet on Juneteenth in a special session to discuss how to block Title IX protections for transgender students and what to do with IPP.

On Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, the Republican-controlled Utah Legislature will spend the day in a special session attempting to block new federal rules to prevent discrimination against transgender students.

In April, the Biden administration expanded Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in schools, colleges and universities that receive federal funding, to include gender identity. Schools could be in violation if a transgender student is prohibited from using a bathroom or locker room that corresponds with their gender identity.

Those rules directly conflict with Utah’s newly passed law requiring people to use the bathroom or locker facilities in state buildings that match the gender they were assigned at birth.

Utah is already part of a multi-state lawsuit challenging the expanded Title IX rules, but just to make sure there’s no ambiguity, lawmakers will employ another newly passed law to directly challenge the new regulations.

Approved only a few months ago, the Utah Constitutional Sovereignty Act allows the Legislature to declare a federal law or regulation unconstitutional and then direct state agencies to ignore the mandate until ordered by a court to comply. It’s unclear if Utah can nullify a federal action, but the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that individual states do not have the authority to declare a federal action unconstitutional.

Another item on lawmakers’ agenda on Wednesday is a proposed change to another new law that would force Intermountain Power Agency to sell a coal-burning power plant to the state instead of shutting it down next summer.

Three months ago, lawmakers passed SB161, which requires IPA to submit an application to keep the coal-fired Intermountain Power Plant in Millard County operating instead of shuttering the plant next summer. More than a dozen local governments and agencies urged Cox to veto the bill, warning that would break an existing agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency. Cox ignored those pleas and signed the bill into law.

Proposed revisions would push the deadline to apply for a permit to keep the plant running back by several months to later this year and require the state to study whether keeping IPP operational would jeopardize the state’s ability to comply with federal air quality standards.