SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The Utah State Legislature will meet on Capitol Hill on Wednesday after Utah Gov. Spencer Cox called for a special session earlier this month.
The session is set to start at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, May 17. During their session, they will discuss several topics including Utah’s ongoing State of Emergency and budget concerns due to flooding. Lawmakers have also been asked by Cox to consider bill amendments and three appointments made by the governor this month.
STATE OF EMERGENCY
On Wednesday, the legislature will consider extending the State of Emergency that Gov. Cox declared on April 18. The declaration was made as Utah braced for spring runoff from an unprecedented winter with snowpack levels exceeding 200% in many areas of the state.
According to Utah State law, a State of Emergency is only in effect for 30 days after its declaration, meaning Cox’s State of Emergency is set to expire on May 18. The Utah Legislature can extend the State of Emergency with a joint resolution. The joint resolution, sponsored by Rep. Mike Schultz (R-Hooper) and Sen. Evan J. Vickers (R-District 28), could extend the State of Emergency as far as August 15, 2023.
Utah lawmakers will also consider budget reallocation as a supplement to the extension of the State of Emergency. After organizations such as UDOT exceeded their budgets due to what seemed like a never-ending snowfall, as well as a rise in costs for flood mitigation, preparation, and repair, lawmakers will work to reallocate funding from the 2023 and 2024 fiscal year budgets.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Val Peterson (R-Orem) and Sen. Jerry Stevenson (R-District 6), is said to adjust existing funds and are “revenue neutral.” The changes include moving $20 million from UDOT’s highway construction and moving it to UDOT Operations/Maintenance Management. Another $10 million would be moved from the Wildland Fire Suppression Fund, with half going to the Division of Emergency and Disaster Management and the other half going to the Division of Finance. Another $3 million would be appropriated from the State Disaster Recovery Restricted Account to the Department of Public Safety in the 2024 fiscal year.
The reallocation of these funds is said to be used for state costs related to the State of Emergency, contingencies for “higher-than-anticipated” flood costs, and to address flood damages.
There are two amendments under consideration during the First Special Session. The first is a definition change for Firearm Possession Amendments in H.B. 225, a bill that passed earlier this year.
The new amendments, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Wilcox (R-Ogden) and Sen. Todd Weiler (R-District 8), would loosen the definition of a Category II person when it comes to firearm possession restrictions. The amendments passed earlier this year restricted non-United States citizens or nationals with a nonimmigrant visa such as a work or student visa from being able to purchase, have, or use a gun.
The new considerations would remove those on a work or student visa from a Category II restricted person in order to coincide with federal law more closely. Under federal law, those on work and student visas are allowed to have and use a gun if they are also in possession of a hunting license or were admitted into the U.S. for the purpose of hunting or sporting.
Added on Monday, May 15 to the Special Session agenda by Gov. Cox were amendments to the Division B death benefit in the Firefighters’ Retirement Act. As of publishing, a copy of the amendments to be considered has not been added to the agenda.
Finally, the Utah Senate will consider accepting various appointments to government positions made by Gov. Cox in the last month.
The first is the appointment of Brian Redd as the new executive director of the Utah Department of Corrections. Cox announced the appointment on May 5 saying Redd brings “a wealth of experience” in management, logistics, security, and law enforcement.
The Utah Senate will also consider the appointment of John Harvey as a member of the Utah Public Service Commission. According to a release of the appointment sent on May 11, Harvey has more than 30 years of experience in utility regulation and has previously served as a consultant for the Public Service Commission.
The final consideration is for Brian Steed, who was recently appointed as the state’s first-ever Great Salt Lake commissioner. Steed has previously served as an executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources and has served in positions with the Bureau of Land Management. If approved by the Senate, Steed would oversee the long-term health of the Lake.