2015 Year in Review

look back at 2015From setting records for volunteer hours donated and job growth, to passing monumental legislation to protect the rights of the LGBT community and people of faith, to reaching population milestones and saying goodbye to some of Utah’s finest public servants, here is a look back at some of Utah’s biggest stories from 2015.

Utah passes monumental LGBT non-discrimination & religious liberty bill

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S.B. 296, also known as the LGBT non-discrimination and religious liberty bill, was a comprehensive effort to protect the rights of people of faith as well as members of the LGBT community. Many stakeholders came together to help pass this monumental legislation, including representatives from Equality Utah and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who worked side by side on the bill. The governor signed S.B. 296 into law during a public ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda in March.

Leadership roles put Utah on the national stage

In July, governors from across the nation appointed Gov. Herbert to lead the National Governors Association (NGA)—a bipartisan organization, which enables governors to share best practices and speak with a collective voice on national policy issues. This leadership role provides Utah with a unique opportunity to share its solutions on a national stage.  Additionally, Sen. Curt Bramble was elected president of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) this year, and many other state officials hold leadership roles within their respective national associations, including Tani Downing, Jon Pierpont, Carlos Braceras, Captain Jess Anderson and others.

Utah reaches 3 million residents

In October, the governor and first lady visited the maternity ward of Utah’s newest hospital to announce that Utah had reached 3 million residents. Numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau confirm that Utah’s high quality of life and abundant economic opportunities attract people from around the world. Most importantly, however, we continues to create opportunities for our children, so they can pursue their dreams right here in Utah.

8 consecutive months leading the nation in job growth

When Gov. Herbert took office six years ago, he set a goal to make Utah the best performing economy in America. Utah is well on its way to reaching that goal. In 2015, the Beehive State spent eight consecutive months leading the nation in private and total job growth. As of November 2015, the unemployment rate in Utah is 3.5 percent, total job growth is 3.6 percent and Utah boasts the 3rd most diverse economy in the nation.

Utahns donate more hours than any other state for 10th straight year

In December, Utah was recognized as the No. 1 state in the nation for volunteerism for the tenth straight year. Last year, Utahns put in enough volunteer hours to fill 93,000 full-time job positions. To put that in another perspective, that’s $4.5 billion in economic contributions. The average Utahn donates 92 hours of service per year, which is twice the average of the No. 2 state in the nation.

Graduation rates on the rise

Utah’s high school graduation rates increased to 84 percent in 2015, which is above the national average. Utah is fourth in the nation for overall high school graduation improvement, with a 7 percent improvement between 2011 and 2013. We are closing the graduation gap between low-income and non-low-income students, leading the nation in growth of Latino high school graduation between 2011 – 2013, and we have the 14th-smallest gap in graduation rates between students with disabilities and students without disabilities.

Standing up for religious freedom

The horrendous acts of terror perpetrated earlier this year brought about a national conversation on U.S. security, Islam and refugees. The only Republican governor to do so, Gov. Herbert broke with his counterparts saying he would work to ease refugees’ suffering without compromising public safety. He also took a stand against the leading GOP presidential candidate’s idea to prohibit all Muslims from entering the U.S. The governor reminded Utahns that our state was settled 168 years ago by religious exiles. In Utah, the First Amendment still matters.

Gone but not forgotten

gone but not forgotten

This year, Utah said goodbye to three outstanding public servants: House Speaker Becky Lockhart, Gov. Norm Bangerter and Gov. Olene Walker. All three served with the highest levels of integrity, duty and heart on behalf of the state and people they so dearly loved. We miss them and thank them for their lasting contributions to our great state.

Speaker Becky Lockhart (1968 – 2015)
Known as “Utah’s Iron Lady,” Speaker Lockhart will be remembered as a tremendous public servant who spent more than a decade and a half in the Utah House of Representatives and made history as Utah’s first female House Speaker. While she was first and foremost a wonderful wife and mother, she was also a remarkable role model, particularly to the untold numbers of women who were inspired by her example to be involved in public service.

Gov. Norm Bangerter (1933 – 2015)
Gov. Bangerter was a friend and mentor to many, and a great leader who accomplished great things on behalf of our state. Gov. Herbert valued his counsel and asked Gov. Bangerter to call him at any time to offer his input. He was a man of family and faith, with a forthright and no-nonsense leadership style who was respected for his willingness to make tough decisions.

Gov. Olene Walker (1930 – 2015)
Gov. Walker leaves behind a celebrated legacy as Utah’s first female governor, but also because of her many accomplishments while in that office. She was a fearless champion of education, recognizing that Utah’s future success was directly connected to the important, often unnoticed, work that takes place in our neighborhood schools. Wherever she went, she broke down barriers so future generations could follow her lead. Her legacy will be appropriately remembered in the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service at Weber State University.