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PM News Brief: COVID Lawsuit Immunity, Huntsman Pulls Ahead & Governor Calls Special Session

Photo of the Utah state capitol dome
Austen Diamond
Utah's Legislature is set to enter its third special session of this year on Thursday morning.

Tuesday evening, June 16, 2020


Businesses And Institutions May Be Granted COVID-19 Lawsuit Immunity

Places like higher education institutions and public schools might receive immunity from COVID-19 related claims. A legislative interim committee voted Tuesday to consider a bill during this week’s special session to clarify that government owned entities can receive immunity from lawsuits. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Kirk Cullimore, said it will offer places more assurance in reopening. The bill would protect certain places from typical negligence claims, but they could still be liable for willful and reckless misconduct. — Jessica Lowell

Interim Committee Passes Bill Banning Police Chokeholds

Utah’s Legislature is taking steps to ban police officers from using chokeholds or kneeling on someone’s neck as a form of restraint. The Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee unanimously passed a bill Tuesday that prohibits law enforcement training that teaches using chokeholds as a valid form of restraint. Officers could still use them in a situation where lethal force is allowed. It also bans law enforcement from restraining someone by kneeling on their neck. The proposal comes after weeks of protests following the death of George Floyd after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Read the full story. — Sonja Hutson

Nearing 15,000 COVID-19 Cases

Utah has now had more than 14,900 confirmed cases of COVID-19. That’s according to new numbers released Tuesday by the state’s department of health. Officials announced two new deaths Tuesday. Both were men living in Salt Lake County and hospitalized at the time of their death. The growth rate for new cases in the Bear River Health District, which covers the state’s northernmost counties, has somewhat leveled off in the past few days. An outbreak at a meat packing facility recently caused a major spike in the area. About 57% of Utah’s cases are considered recovered. And more than 275,000 people have been tested. — Ross Terrell

Gov. Herbert Calls Legislature Into Special Session

Gov. Gary Herbert called the Utah Legislature into a special session starting Thursday morning. It’s the third special session this year. Lawmakers will consider a wide range of proposals from adjusting the budget to COVID-19 data privacy changes and police reform. They must balance the budget by June 30, and plummeting tax revenues connected to the pandemic mean legislators must cut up to $1.3 billion. The session will be held virtually in order to maintain social distancing. — Sonja Hutson

Huntsman Leads Republican Pack Ahead Of Potential Last Debate

With just two weeks until the primary election, a new poll shows Jon Huntsman Jr. has edged ahead in the Republican race for governor. The poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates for the Salt Lake Chamber showed the former governor has 35% support among likely Republican voters. Meanwhile, 33% of prospective voters said they favor Spencer Cox. Huntsman has a stronger lead when it comes to unaffiliated voters, with 40% indicating they would vote for him. But with a margin of error around 4%, it means they are essentially tied. Huntsman and Cox will meet in a debate Tuesday at 7 p.m., along with candidates Greg Hughes and Thomas Wright, who are polling at 10 and 5%, respectively. — Caroline Ballard


Salt Lake City Council To Vote On Police Budget

The Salt Lake City Council is working towards finalizing the city’s budget for the next fiscal year, including how much to allocate for police. In a working session Tuesday afternoon, councilmembers made a tentative vote to move about $3 million from the police’s budget into a non-departmental account, which would give the council more oversight. A final vote on the city’s budget is planned for Tuesday night. — Jon Reed


SCOTUS LGBTQ Decision And The Mountain West

The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken and granted members of the LGBTQ community protection under federal discrimination laws based on sex. But some advocates think Mountain West states should pass laws to ratify that change. States like Colorado and Nevada already have employment protections across the board. But Montana only has partial protections, and Wyoming doesn’t have any. It’s not just workplace protections advocates are fighting for, though, but broad inclusivity and protections for LGBTQ people in everything from loans to health care. Madelyn Beck, Mountain West News Bureau

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