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Redistricting, COVID-19 mandates, new name for Dixie State debated at special session 

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers worked into the evening at the state capitol Tuesday as they tackled hot button issues like redistricting, exemptions for federal COVID-19 mandates, and a new name for Dixie State University at a special session. 

All eyes continue to watch how the state is redistricted and what the political districts will look like for the next ten years. 

Redistricting

Tuesday afternoon, Democrats expressed disappointment with how the Congressional map quickly passed the House.

The map now goes to the Senate for a vote.  

The group Better Boundaries said the maps created by the Republican-controlled committee were heavily gerrymandered and that it will consider legal and legislative options to get the maps repealed and replaced. 

“We are extremely disappointed the Legislative Redistricting Committee decided to forward maps that don’t meet what Utahns want, which is keeping Utah’s cities and counties intact and keeping politics out of redistricting,” said Katie Wright from Better Boundaries. 

Lawmakers heard more than 100 public comments during that meeting, with most comments critical of the maps.

They urged lawmakers to instead approve maps put forward by the Independent Redistricting Commission.  

House Speaker Brad Wilson said they are selecting maps that best serve the state, while Democrats said they will do what they can to change them. 

Minority Leader Brian King said, “It’s bad enough that we have Salt Lake County cut three ways currently. Under the new map, it’s going to be cut four ways and there’s just no good reason for that.” 

Democratic Rep. Andrew Stoddard agreed, “You could keep Salt Lake City whole. You can keep most counties in the state whole or with very minimal splits, and this map doesn’t do that.” 

Wilson was adamant that it’s not possible.

“You literally cannot create four congressional districts and not divide up counties. You can’t do it,” he said.

The new congressional map splits the Salt Lake City area into the state’s four congressional districts.  

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project released an open memo about that map.

“This practice is known to professional redistricters as “cracking,” since the Salt Lake City community is cracked into four parts, each of which is deprived of political power.” 

But Republican lawmakers said they want each member of Utah’s federal delegation to represent both urban and rural interests. 

When it comes to redistricting, four maps need approval.  

More votes were expected Wednesday on redistricting. 

Also Tuesday, the Senate approved the state school board map, which is now making its way to the House.  

COVID-19 Mandate Exemptions 

A bill that seeks to expand exemptions to the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for certain workplaces was also in the works.  

It would allow for three exemptions — medical, religious, and a strongly held personal belief — and would prohibit an employer from taking action against an employee if they get an exemption.  

An overflow crowd filled three rooms and a hallway at the Capitol, many waiting to make public comments in support of the bill.

The committee ran out of time to hear from everyone and the bill did not move from the committee. 

Dixie State University name change

Also on the agenda for the special session was a potential name change for Dixie State University.  

Utah Tech is the latest proposed name change. 

A committee first suggested Utah Polytechnic, but at the heart of that debate is what this means for the community and the school’s identity. 

Dozens lined up on both sides Tuesday.

Some state legislators pointed out that, as a university, the school is no longer a small community institution that should represent the whole state. 

Utah currently subsidizes Dixie State with about $83 million each year. 

Residents from Washington County argued Tuesday that Dixie is what pioneers called the area to represent southern Utah, and the spirit that residents enjoyed while working together to build up the area.

They said ditching that name would hurt a lot of people for a long time. 

“I believe that Dixie State and community should be applauded and not punished. But removing that name is punishing Dixie State University and the community,” said Abraham Thiombiano, a Dixie State alumnus. “And they should be applauded for their track record in educating young minds.” 

However, some current and past students said Dixie is not a great way to represent the school on a national scale. They said the university needs a name that represents the school’s mission and location. 

“We’re on a path that we’re going to have to outgrow our name, regardless of what anybody says,” said Devin Osborne, who currently attends the university. “Dixie State University is not a national name, but Utah Tech University, I believe Utah Tech University is a national name, and it would be great for us — not just academically, athletically, even around this whole community.” 

A name change committee approved Utah Tech, and school president Stephen Nadauld also supported the name change, though he said that does not mean he’s against the school’s history and heritage. 

If the legislature ultimately decides to make the change, it would cost around $2.7 million. 

The education committee is still considering the new name. 

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