The Utah Legislature will meet beginning Thursday in its first-ever digital special session as lawmakers confront a range of issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the core functions of this special session will remain the same as ever — lawmakers will still debate and vote on bills — there are some key differences. Public comment will be handled differently, for example. And unlike in most sessions, there will be no committee hearings, and the House and Senate will not meet simultaneously.
Here’s a list of all the things you need to know about the upcoming special session, from how to tune in to what bills to watch:
Why is a special session needed?
In response to the coronavirus, businesses have been forced to close, the stock market has plummeted, and experts have warned nationally of an impending recession — all throwing the budget the state put together in its spring session out of whack. The special session will offer lawmakers the opportunity to rework that budget based on new economic projections, as well as to tackle other health and economic questions related to COVID-19.
What bills will lawmakers consider?
Pandemic consultation: HB3005 would require the governor to provide notice and consult with the legislative branch before issuing a declaration of a state of emergency or other executive orders involving an epidemic or pandemic disease. The bill, sponsored by House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, would also allow the Legislature to terminate certain executive actions made by the governor through a joint resolution, including any directive encouraging statewide compliance.
The notice and consultation requirements would not be necessary if there is an “imminent threat of loss of life” and when complying with those notification and collaboration requirements would increase the threat of loss of life.
The Alliance for a Better Utah called the bill a “blatant power grab” that could have “devastating consequences for future emergencies.”
“Having a single person in charge during times of crisis is one of the reasons we have executive officials in the first place,” Lauren Simpson, the group’s policy director, said in a news release. “When time is of the essence, you want a leader who can respond nimbly to changing circumstances, without having to go through our traditional legislative bureaucracy to get things done. A pandemic is not the time to govern by committee, nor is it the time for the Legislature to try and grab power for itself.”