SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Spencer Cox said he was OK with the legislature passing resolutions exploring whether the state should ban critical race theory and declare Utah a "Second Amendment sanctuary."
"They actually did what I asked them to do," the governor said of the Utah State Legislature, later adding: "If you look at those resolutions, that’s basically what they did was say 'Hey, we want to work on this, we have some concerns.'"
The legislature met in an "extraordinary session" to pass the measures as resolutions after Gov. Cox declined to put them on the agenda as bills in a special session that was held the same day. The special session was designed to accept $1.65 billion in COVID-19 relief money, though lawmakers also passed a bill banning face mask mandates in Utah schools in the fall (that the governor said he would sign) and extended the state of emergency for drought.
Resolutions are statements by a legislative body that is not legally binding. A bill becomes a law that can be enforced.
Republican lawmakers originally wanted a ban on critical race theory, even though it is not taught in Utah schools. They also wanted the "Second Amendment sanctuary" status for Utah out of concern about federal gun control policies that might happen.
Gov. Cox told legislative leaders he wanted more debate and deliberation on the topics than what would happen in a rushed special session. At his monthly news conference on PBS, the governor said he still wanted that but was pleased the legislature merely passed resolutions to encourage exploration of future policies.
The governor told reporters there was a lot of confusion about what "critical race theory" actually is, with multiple definitions. In his remarks, Gov. Cox said the state school board has examined whether it is taught and found no examples of it and whether it should be added to the curriculum must be decided by them.
But the governor also said Utah should not avoid hard conversations about history.
"We live in the greatest nation in the history of the world, and we have so much to be proud of and we have to teach those things and we should teach those things," he said. "We’ve also made some very serious mistakes in our past. We shouldn’t shy away from those things. Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it and we should make sure our school kids, that they learn the ugly parts of our history as well."
"Critical race theory" is centered around the idea that racism is a part of the fabric of American society. It has become a culture war topic and lawmakers on Capitol Hill said their inboxes and voicemails have been flooded with constituent communications opposed to teaching it.
But Black community groups have expressed frustration that they've not been included in conversations about legislative action. House Democrats, also upset that they were not included, walked out of the House chamber as the resolution was debated on Wednesday, leaving Republicans to pass the resolution unanimously.
The governor said he wasn't going to criticize Democrats for what they did.
"That’s their way of making their voices heard and I don’t have a problem with that, either," he said.