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Utah Legislators Plan Special Session To Consider Modifying Local Health Orders And In-Person Voting

Photo of the Utah state capitol building and a branch of cherry blossoms
Roddy Nikpour
Utah lawmakers plan to conduct a special session later this week.

The Utah Legislature plans to call itself into special session late this week to potentially make changes to local stay at home orders, expand vote by mail, make budget adjustments and appropriate federal aid to fight coronavirus. 

Salt Lake and Summit counties, as well as Salt Lake City, have stay at home orders, while the state just has a recommendation in place. Lawmakers may modify those local orders because a difference in requirements has caused confusion, Senate President Stuart Adams said. 

“We need to have flexibility because I think there is a difference between rural and urban,” Adams said. “But I actually believe that across the Wasatch Front, we need some consistency.”

Also on the table for the special session are changes to Utah’s upcoming primary elections on June 30. Lawmakers are looking at removing the requirement to hold in-person elections, and instead allow counties to decide whether to open polling places or only utilize vote by mail. 

“If they don't want to, if they don't feel like they can do it safely, they don't have to,” House Speaker Brad Wilson said. “We're going to give them more time to have people mail their ballots in.”

More than 90% of voters already vote by mail, according to Utah’s Director of Elections Justin Lee. 

Lawmakers plan to appropriate $100 million out of roughly $700 million in federal aid, according to Wilson. It’ll go mainly towards medical supplies like personal protective equipment and testing supplies. 

The Legislature will also likely make some budget changes, like paying for construction projects — such as the new state prison — with bonds rather than cash. However, Wilson said lawmakers will save bigger changes to the budget for another special session in May or June. 

“We think we'll have better information by the middle of May,” Wilson said. “This has only been going on for a few weeks, and we're still trying to figure out what we think the federal stimulus will do to the state's economy and we'll have better information about how long this will last and how much unemployment it's creating.”

He added that the Legislature will vote on a resolution to inform state agencies that the state will have less money available for next year’s budget than originally forecasted. 

“We're going to need them to tighten their belts and ask them to use last year's budget numbers as a starting point, not the forecasted revenue that we had,” he said. “We all know the tax revenues are going to be lower and we can't spend money we're not going to have.”

Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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