ST. GEORGE — As the U.S. contended with two major challenges – the social unrest that erupted after George Floyd was killed and the COVID-19 pandemic – Utah state Rep. Rex Shipp said his time working with the Utah Legislature helped him to step back and listen.
“It’s a healthy approach,” Shipp told St. George News. “You learn to listen to different opinions and to work with people who have different approaches. It’s impossible to make everybody happy, but we try to do right for as many people as possible, while fighting for what we believe in.”
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have strong opinions, he said. Although Shipp’s legislative district doesn’t cover Washington County, he still said he’s not in favor of the Dixie State name change, for instance, and he’s advocated for gun-owners’ rights since he joined the Legislature in January 2019.
“I’m afraid we’re getting too deep into cancel culture,” Shipp said. “My question is: Where does it end?”
Shipp, who met his wife, Stacia, and won a baseball championship while attending Southern Utah State College, suggested that if activists get Dixie State’s name changed, they may go after Utah next.
“We forget that Brigham Young wanted Utah’s name to be Deseret,” Shipp said. “It was named Utah out of respect to the Utes.”
Shipp’s interest in gun rights comes from his childhood, he said. He grew up on a cattle ranch in Joseph, Utah, where he learned to work, play and shoot.
“The first time I shot a gun was when I was 7 or 8,” he said. “My brothers and I hunted with our family at a camp on Beaver Mountain. Those were some of my best memories.”
For Shipp, a financial advisor, it’s not about gun control.
“It’s about education,” he said, “and teaching young boys how to handle a gun safely from a young age.”
Along these lines, Shipp sponsored HB 258, which would have created a three-year pilot program whereby students would be able to take a one-semester class by a qualified instructor and receive a semester hour of elective credit. The bill passed the Utah House by a vote of 47-21 but ultimately didn’t make it to the Senate.
One of Shipp’s more controversial bills, HB 92, aimed to prevent physicians from performing “medically unnecessary puberty inhibition procedure, or sex characteristic-altering procedures” on minors.
“These things can leave substantial, permanent damage,” Shipp said. “Science says that their brains are still developing. If that’s true, they shouldn’t be allowed to make life-altering decisions when they’re so young.”
Shipp pointed to the laws that prohibit minors from smoking and drinking, which he said are there to protect young people from harming themselves, as well as others.
“Our doctors ought to be held to their first rule,” he said. “That is, to do no harm. Meanwhile, they’re getting paid to perform these procedures, which are not cheap.”
HB 92 passed the House Health and Human Services Committee by a vote of 10-3, but the bill was returned to the House Rules Committee and never made it to the full House for a vote.
Shipp, who is on the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee and is vice chair of the Public Utilities, Energy, and Technology Committee, said that his days at the Legislature were packed, as he had to take on more meetings than usual.
“There were a lot of different opinions,” he said. “We tried to take them all into account, in order to try and find common ground among the various stakeholders.”
This past session, Shipp said, was different in a number of ways, but one stood out more than the others.
“There were no lobbyists,” he said, referring to certain pandemic-related restrictions. “A lot of people badmouth lobbyists, but they can really help you to understand a bill. They can also give you some sense of who may be for or against it. This ultimately helps you to make decisions”
As an example, when it came to HB 92, Shipp said the legislation had the support of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group of conservative LGBT advocates, but it wasn’t enough to get the bill to passage.
Even with all the changes to the Legislature these past two years as a result of the pandemic, when it comes to committees and research and the ultimate passage or failure of legislation, it’s all in a day’s work as a legislator.
Like his fellow Southern Utah lawmakers, Shipp said he wakes early to study bills, then takes meetings before going onto the House floor. He said he stays up later than he’d like to, but it’s all worth it.
“We don’t do it for the money,” he said with a laugh. “We do it because, I feel, we all should do our part in public service.”
This story is part of a weekly St. George News series highlighting the lives and backgrounds of Utah lawmakers who represent people in Washington and Iron counties. See previous entries below.
- Rep. Travis Seegmiller strives to balance past, present and future
- ‘Early intervention is the key’: Rep. Lowry Snow advocates for justice and education reform
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