With the Utah’s declared state of emergency well into its sixth month, the Utah legislature is meeting today in a special session to debate whether to extend the state of emergency. It will also consider measures to redefine powers granted to the governor under a state of emergency and to curtail powers granted to health departments.
In total, there are 22 bills up for consideration. Most deal directly with the situation Utah is facing with COVID-19, or with issues that have devloped because of the response to COVID-19, such as health department powers and the way the state of emergency statute is structured.
Rep. Cory Maloy (LD 2) and Rep. Kay Christofferson (LD 56) both said legislative leadership plans to try to extend the state of emergency while cutting back the number of powers the governor has under that state. Christofferson said there’s an interest in being able to access federal money. He was told by Rep. Val Peterson that amount is around $100 million.
“I’m in a dilemma personally because I think this is the right direction,” Maloy said. “The legislature is taking back its authority. There’s a huge imbalance right now between the branches of power, across the country. All of these governors have taken these emergency power steps and they are not giving it up.”
He said for all the frustration Utahn’s are experiencing with the management of the COVID-19 situation, he feels Utah governor Gary Herbert has handled the situation better than the vast majority of other state’s governors.
He is frustrated with the governor’s attachment to federal funds. “Governor Herbert says we all pay into that, we might as well get some of it back.” But Maloy would like to see Utah take control back. “At some point we have to stop accepting these federal funds and stop the state of emergency.”
Under the current state of emergency statute, the governor can declare state of emergency endlessly. When one thirty-day period expires, he can renew it without restriction.
Maloy was waiting to see the final iteration of the proposed bills before committing to vote one way or another, but expected to be inclined against voting for an extension.
Christofferson said legislative leadership was working with the governor’s office to craft a bill that would extend the state of emergency while limiting the governor’s powers. If the bills sufficiently limit the governor’s powers, Christofferson will vote for extension, but if the governor retains too many powers, he will vote against it.
The session can be watched via Livestream at le.utah.gov.