The 2023 Utah Legislative Session was my first experience witnessing 45 days of lawmaking firsthand. Several fellow Davis District educators and I spoke with Representative Stewart Barlow in the back halls behind the House Chamber. I observed how quickly things move when there is voting on the house floor. Representative Barlow would listen briefly to one of us and then, upon hearing the vote bell, quickly return to the chamber to cast his vote before continuing our conversation. Having our conversation interrupted several times for Rep. Barlow to vote was not ideal, but he remained attentive and seemed to listen to what we had to say. I learned from that interaction that, like teachers, Utah legislators have over 1,000 things happening around them during an active session.
Educators often joke that teachers make more daily decisions than brain surgeons. While I cannot attest to the accuracy of this claim, as an elementary teacher, I certainly understand the sentiment. This is why I comprehend why Utah legislators rely on their colleagues for guidance on how to vote when a bill comes before the full House or Senate. The Utah Legislature comprises 29 Senators, 75 Representatives, and 50 subcommittees. Committee sizes vary, but typically, Senate subcommittees have seven members, while House committees have between seven and twenty Representatives. Considering that 575 bills were passed during the 2023 Utah General Session, it's clear why legislators must make informed decisions based on reliable, accurate information and for more educators to engage with their representatives.
Before attending Educator Day on the Hill, I was unaware of how many decisions affecting my profession were made without substantial input from actual teachers. I am thankful for the UEA legislative team, but above all, our legislators need to hear from teachers themselves. This realization motivated me to become a policy ambassador this year, leaving my students with a substitute twice during the legislative session to ensure Utah legislators heard from me.
As a policy ambassador, I attended the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee, where Senators and Representatives shared their visions and needs for education funding. The questions posed by Senator Kathleen Reibe, Rep. Joel Briscoe, and Rep. Dan Johnson during the presentations were insightful and pertinent to the requests. Not surprisingly, all three have backgrounds in education. Later, outside the House chamber, I briefly spoke with Rep. Briscoe, who confirmed his opposition to HB 285. Legislators with teaching experience understand the complexities of the education system and the demands of teaching. While connecting with Rep. Briscoe was valuable, my primary goal was to engage with legislators from diverse professional backgrounds, such as law, business, and medicine.
Our legislative system allows individuals from various backgrounds to run for office and represent their constituents. As educators, it's our responsibility to hold them accountable for that representation. It's easy to get caught up in the myriad decisions we make daily to provide engaging, practical instruction for our students and to forget the impact of legislative decisions made in January and February each year on our teaching.
While it may not be feasible for all Utah educators to take time off, prepare substitute plans, and visit the Capitol during the legislative session, all can reach out to their Senators or Representatives. Legislators need to hear our stories and understand our daily experiences as educators. They need to be informed about how their decisions affect our teaching and to rely on trustworthy sources when making those decisions. We must make our voices heard. Every day, we strive to make a difference in our students' lives. One way to extend that impact is by sharing our stories and our students' stories with our Representatives and Legislators, illustrating the reality of our profession.
2023 General Session Bills passed as of 2/4/2024 8:20:15 am. Utah Legislature -- Bills Passed as of 2/4/2024 8:20:15 AM. (2024, February 2).