Utah lawmakers end their annual legislative session

Utah House of Representatives at work during the 2019 Legislative session in the Utah Capitol.

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers ended their annual legislative session Thursday after scaling back a voter-approved Medicaid expansion, passing a long-awaited update to the state’s hate crimes law and approving an abortion measure that could be among the strictest in the country.

Gov. Gary Herbert said he hadn’t yet decided whether to sign the measure banning most abortions after 18 weeks, but he’s not worried about the cost of a lawsuit, which has been estimated at some $2 million.

“I’m not going to put off by the fact that it’s going to cost us some money,” he told The Associated Press. “Some laws are worth defending and some fights are worth having.”

Herbert said he’s against abortion generally, but says he’s weighing whether recent scientific advancements warrant re-considering at what point a fetus should be considered viable and abortion considered illegal.

The bill comes as abortion opponents across the country are emboldened by President Donald Trump’s appointment of conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices.

Arkansas lawmakers also passed an 18-week ban Wednesday, and several other state legislatures are advancing proposals to ban abortion earlier in a woman’s pregnancy.

Herbert said he hasn’t thought about whether Utah should be a national test case as he considers whether to sign the ban. He has 20 days to make a decision.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah has already promised to sue if Herbert signs the measure.

Lawmakers also passed another proposal banning abortions solely because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome, but it would only go into effect if courts uphold a similar ban elsewhere.

Meanwhile, lawmakers decided to postpone action on sweeping tax reform during their 45-day session, but included plans in the state’s $19 billion budget to ensure that action happens later this year.

Some the lawmakers’ decisions this year sparked protest, such as the move to shrink Medicaid to cover fewer people and the failure of an LGBT conversion-therapy ban.

Lawmakers defended the Medicaid decisions as essential to controlling long-term costs. On conversion therapy, though, Herbert vowed to keep working.

Alcohol is often a touchy issue in the state where members of the predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, avoid it.

This year, though, the state reached a deal to slightly increase the amount of alcohol allowed in beer at grocery and convenience stores, from 3.2 percent to 4 percent.

On guns, lawmakers approved a bill that strengthens the state’s “stand your ground” law by saying that people do not have a duty to retreat if firing in self-defense.

But a gun-control proposal allowing police to temporarily confiscate guns of those deemed to be a threat, known as a red-flag law, died without a hearing.

On hate crimes, lawmakers approved a long-stalled measure to update a law that didn’t protect specific groups and been deemed unenforceable.

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