UWSL legislative priorities see big wins for Utah kids and families
The 2023 legislative session adjourned last Friday, March 3, at midnight and we at United Way of Salt Lake are thrilled about some of the wins for our priorities this year.
We are excited about the passage of several bills, including optional full-day kindergarten (FDK), healthcare coverage for kids, and postpartum coverage for mothers. These pieces of legislation will increase access and opportunity for families and improve outcomes for kids in health and education.
Here is a brief overview of some of the work United Way of Salt Lake, with our partners, completed during this year’s session:
We are proud of the tireless efforts of our team and the Utah Full-Day Kindergarten Now! Coalition. Thanks to many years of hard work, HB477 Full-day Kindergarten Amendments PASSED!
This big win moves FDK funding into the weighted per pupil unit (how grades 1-12 are funded), and out of the various grant programs that have funded FDK until now. Passage of HB477 means more families in Utah will have access to FDK and can send their child to the kindergarten option that works best for them.
It also means public school districts and charter schools can make plans for optional FDK expansion knowing there is a stable funding stream available. We are looking forward to implementation and excited for what this win means for academic outcomes.
HB102 Higher Education Residency Amendments also PASSED! This bill will make it easier for students who do not have a permanent U.S. resident or citizenship status to qualify for in-state tuition rates. This makes higher education a more affordable and accessible option for immigrant students currently classified as nonresidents legally living in the United States.
Although this bill does not create a path for undocumented students to access this benefit, the bill will positively impact special immigrant visa recipients, refugees, humanitarian parolees, asylees, or temporary protected status recipients.
The final education budget bill also added significant new funding in schools, increasing the per pupil funding, funding for at-risk students, and pay increases for teachers and support staff that will increase in the future with inflation.
HB170 Child Tax Credit Revisions PASSED with some significant amendments to the original bill. The tax credit is applied on a sliding scale based on income and provides lower income families with a state child tax credit to support their childcare, food, or other immediate needs. While the bill is limited, it is a good start and will help hundreds of Utah families with kids between one and three years old.
Unfortunately, none of the requests for appropriations to continue stabilization efforts in the child care sector were prioritized. We know that if we do not come up with state solutions, Utah child care providers and families will suffer.
The childcare sector is an essential engine of our economy and an important part of a child’s healthy development. Over the next few months, we will work with partners on our strategy for next year.
The legislature PASSED and funded SB217 Children’s Health Coverage Amendments — a win our partners have been working toward for years. At almost 8 percent, Utah has one of the highest uninsured rates for children in the nation.
The bill will expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to cover all uninsured children under 200% of the federal poverty level, including immigrant children, if they have been living in the state for at least 180 days and their parent has unsubsidized employment. This is a huge win for children in Utah.
The passage of SB133 Modifications to Medicaid Coverage will extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers who are low-income from 60-days postpartum to 12-months postpartum. This bill will help prevent postpartum deaths and improve health outcomes for both new moms and their babies.
The bill also extends family planning services to a wider range of families which will prevent unintended pregnancies and save the state an estimated $5.7 million in healthcare costs. This is a great win for women and families!
EQUITY, BELONGING, AND INCLUSION
Together with our partners, we were able to successfully stop or significantly amend a number of bills that threatened equity in education.
Unfortunately, in the last days of the session, HB427 Individual Freedom in Public Education passed. While this bill was significantly amended from its original version, we were opposed to the bill because we believe it threatens equity in education and puts an additional burden on teachers and school districts.
HB434 Parent and Student Rights and School Safety Amendments never had a committee hearing. This was disappointing, as the bill would have improved transparency and communication between schools and families whenever an incident of bullying or harassment occurred.
We are not giving up and plan to bring this bill back next session. Sign up for advocacy alerts to be informed of action items over the summer in preparation for a big push next year! There’s a lot of work to do for equity, belonging, and inclusion and making sure kids feel safe in their schools.
HB54 Tax Revisions was the large tax cut bill that passed this session.
The bill reduced the income and corporate tax rate, increased the income level Social Security state tax exemption, and increased the earned income tax credit (EITC).
The bill could also take sales tax off food, pending voter approval to the question in November 2024. That question would also remove the constitutional earmark on the income tax to fund public education, some higher education and services for children and people with disabilities.
The education community worked to get some assurances for how public education will be funded moving forward. We will have more information for you over the next year and a half before you are asked to cast your vote.
Thank you for your support and participation in advocating for policies that support kids and families – we could not do this work without you!
To see how other bills we were following turned out, please go to our comprehensive bill tracker.
If you’d like to get involved in advocacy work with United Way of Salt Lake, visit uw.org/get-involved
To stay tuned for ways to get involved over the summer, sign up for our policy matters newsletter.
Written by Lia Baez, Policy Director at United Way of Salt Lake