SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – It’s calm and quiet inside the State Capitol, but it’s a very busy day for lawmakers.
It’s not only the first remote session of the Utah Legislature, but it’s also the first time they’ve called themselves into special session thanks to a change approved by voters in 2018.
“It’s historic for those two reasons, but it’s historic even for a bigger reason. I don’t think there’s ever been a period of time, at least in my lifetime or my political history for sure, that we have had such a challenging moment,” said Senate President Stuart Adams, (R) Layton.
President Adams says his priority for the special session is to get the economy going again.
“In a very measured and thoughtful way, I’m calling it sustainable social distancing. We have to find a way to protect our health, but we also have to find a way to get people back to work,” said Adams.
He says a commission will be formed to help push that along potentially by the end of the month.
The legislature is also addressing the state budget, the Working Rainy Day Fund, unemployment, the 2020 primary election and more in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most bills are flying through, but one is being met with resistance.
“This bill is essentially power grab,” said Lauren Simpson with Alliance for a Better Utah.
Simpson is referring to House Bill 3005.
It requires the governor to give legislative leaders 48 hours’ notice before issuing an executive order in response to an epidemic or pandemic emergency if lives are not on the line.
Before it passed the House 56-18, Representative Merrill Nelson, (R) Grantsville, argued it’s a legislative overreach and would put an undue burden on the governor in the time of emergency.
“Having a leader who can respond nimbly is one of the reasons why we have an executive. That’s what you want in a time of crisis. You don’t want, you know, decisions when time is of the essence to have to go through a giant committee like the legislature,” she said.
Adams says for issues that can wait this will be a better process.
“I have 103 other legislators I deal with. It’s a great opportunity because whatever idea I come up with, it always gets better when I pass it through those 103 other legislators and we think the governor could benefit from giving us a 24-48 notice,” said Adams.
That bill is now off to the Senate for consideration.
Governor Gary Herbert’s Office is keeping a close eye on he bill as it moves forward.
“The bill appears to be an attempt on the part of the legislature to formalize communications and notifications with regards to certain emergency actions on the part of the governor. We have concerns with elements of the bill and its impact on executive branch operations. We are working in good faith with Legislative Leadership to address those now,” said spokeswoman Anna Lehnardt.
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