SALT LAKE CITY — Even though Gov. Spencer Cox opted to exclude a possible ban of critical race theory and legislation to declare Utah a "Second Amendment sanctuary" from this week's special legislative session agenda, lawmakers are moving to do what they can to address those two hot-button issues — even if they can't act on legislation.
The House and Senate on Tuesday each called their own "extraordinary sessions" for Wednesday afternoon at the Capitol in Salt Lake City to consider separate resolutions urging the State School Board to prohibit critical race theory in schools and pledging to protect Utahns' Second Amendment rights.
Under state law, leaders can call extraordinary sessions to handle their own House or Senate business. More commonly the Senate calls itself into extraordinary sessions to handle advice and consent for governmental appointments, but the House and Senate can also use extraordinary sessions for reviewing rules and resolutions.
Thanks to a 2018 voter-approved, constitutional amendment, the Legislature can call itself into a special session during an emergency — but that's not a provision House or Senate leaders are invoking for this session. Because they're only moving to consider resolutions, which only send a message as opposed to a potential new state law, they're able to call their own sessions for the critical race theory and Second Amendment sanctuary matters.
The move came a day after the governor opted not to include those issues on Wednesday's special session agenda, essentially forcing lawmakers to wait until the 2022 general session in January for their next chance to pass legislation related to those issues. Cox argued those hot-button issues "would benefit from more time, thought, dialogue and input."
On Monday, Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, told the Deseret News he disagreed with the governor, arguing he'd rather see the issues — especially critical race theory — on the agenda to avoid drawing out the contention and instead "put it behind us and move on."
In a statement issued Tuesday along with his call for a House extraordinary session, Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said they will "discuss policy to ensure our public schools teach the important issues surrounding race in our country in a respectful, appropriate and open-minded manner; and take steps to protect the fundamental right to bear arms."
"Utahns — not federal bureaucrats — must remain in control of what is taught in our schools to ensure students understand both positive and negative events in American history, and their duty to be engaged, respectful members of society," Wilson said in the prepared statement. "Similarly, constitutional rights should not be subject to the whims of executive orders. We are committed to working on legislation that reaffirms and safeguards the constitutional right of Utah citizens to keep and bear arms."
Wilson said residents "across the state have expressed concerns to their representatives about federal policies in these two areas that contradict the principles and values that a majority of Utahns hold."
"In our federalist system, it is our role and duty as a state to be a counterweight to the federal government and protect the rights and promote the interests of our citizens," Wilson said. "We are determined to take action to benefit the people of Utah."
Wilson's call stated the House will consider a resolution that "strongly recommends that the Utah State Board of Education review standards for curriculum and prohibit the inclusion of critical race theory in curriculum" as well as a resolution that "identifies the need for support in Utah statutes of the Second Amendment rights of Utah citizens and encourages continued discussion of how to strengthen state statutes, including discussion of designating Utah as a sanctuary state."
Critical race theory, according to the American Bar Association, recognizes "that race is not biologically real but is socially constructed and socially significant." The theory also acknowledges "that racism is a normal feature of society and is embedded within systems and institutions, like the legal system, that replicates racial inequality. This dismisses the idea that racist incidents are aberrations but instead are manifestations of structural and systemic racism."
Nationwide, Republicans have taken a growing interest in banning critical race theory from schools. In Idaho, where lawmakers recently approved a ban, lawmakers argued the theory and similar teachings "exacerbate and inflame divisions on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or other criteria in ways contrary to the unity of the nation and the well-being of the state of Idaho and its citizens."
Senate Republicans also issued a prepared statement on both issues, also pledging action.
"Everyone is created equal and should be judged by their character, not the color of their skin. For this reason, we oppose critical race theory being taught in schools," the Senate Republican caucus said in a prepared statement. "American history should be taught in a way that highlights our country's highs and lows, triumphs and mistakes. We do not want to erase or bypass history, but we need to prevent schools from endorsing discriminatory concepts."
Senate Republicans said they have heard from "numerous concerned parents across the state" regarding critical race theory. "We are committed to listening to constituents' concerns and uniting to find positive solutions that create inclusive learning environments for all students."
Senate Republicans also urged the State School Board to "consider appropriate action."
As for Utah becoming a "Second Amendment sanctuary," Senate Republicans said they were "committed to protecting the Second Amendment rights defined in the U.S. Constitution by our Founding Fathers."
"Our most important duty as legislators is to preserve Utahns' freedoms, including the freedom to bear arms without government interference," Senate Republicans said. "As the majority caucus, we support and recognize that most Utah citizens stand by the Second Amendment. It is concerning to see what is happening at the Federal level to threaten our right to bear arms. We are and will continue to work on legislation to address this pressing concern."