I have gained so much valuable knowledge and insight about the legislative process in Utah over the past few weeks. It was a jam-packed session and as a newbie my learning curve was steep. These are my main take-aways:
#1: Legislators are Regular People
Sometimes they are even flawed people. Other than a citizenship requirement and being a legal voter over the age of 25 in a specific district, if you have the support and backing of enough local people who believe you can represent them, you could be one too. I had an unrealistic idea of who our local senators and representatives were. I was gratified that so many of those I encountered or observed were intelligent, well-spoken, amenable and truly concerned about the well-being of their constituents. I was also dismayed by those whose actions are less guided by the public good or even (dare I say it) by common sense or reason. It makes the need for opposition and meaningful debate crucial, including the honest voices of citizens impacted by the bills they seek to introduce and turn into law.
#2: Bills are Political
Partisan politics run deep into state matters. Legislators seeking re-election often see their state positions as springboards for positions in more important greener political pastures. They will do what it takes to get there and there is often an agenda behind the introduction of a bill. Support for - or opposition to - a bill often runs along party lines. Again, this is why opposition and debate are important and necessary.
#3: A Bill Never (or hardly ever) Dies
As time is limited to a session of a mere 45 days, bills from previous sessions are often resuscitated to enjoy new life. Bills that arrived with much fanfare and noise sometimes limp off into amendment heaven, where they are not bothersome but could always make a comeback. These, along with tabled bills and others that have been put on hold, may remain in bill purgatory indefinitely. Only a bill specifically vetoed by the governor actually dies, and even those can return from the dead at some point.
#4: We Make the Laws
Even the ones we don’t like. As we, the people, elect our legislative body, they are our voices in the congress or senate at both the state and federal level. They are appointed by us and represent our will. If they do so disingenuously, then the most workable remedy is to simply not re-elect them for office. It is ultimately the ordinary citizen, the very one who “doesn’t like to get involved in politics” who controls the political landscape. We need to apply that duty wisely so that we choose appropriate and responsible representation.
#5: Utah Teachers and Students are Represented
I am in awe of how many incredible individuals campaign, lobby, and yes, fight on behalf of teachers and students in our state. The UEA Legislative Team works harder and does more than I realized. They are the unsung heroes of our association, putting in hours of effort strategizing, collaborating, studying and contributing to make sure that we are given a voice during the legislative session at the Utah Capitol. Their work doesn’t stop there though. I know that what we have seen during the session is just a small part of all that they do. If you are not a member yet, I urge you to sign up so that this important work can continue.
At the beginning of our journey as Legislative Policy Ambassadors this 2021 session, Dr. Sara Jones spoke to us about the need for teacher support during the pandemic. Her words about how educators are overloaded and need support now more than ever, really resonated with me. It is comforting that she and the entire team “get it.” They recognize and know our fears and concerns as teachers. They are not just passively listening, they are doing. There is a lot that educators still need. The words of Susan B. Anthony remind us that, “It is only through our discontent with the way things are that we can hope for change.” I am hopeful that the UEA Legislative Team, along with our voices and support, can inspire that change.
UEA Policy Ambassador
East High School