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Utah Legislature Calls Itself Into Special Session to Address COVID-19 Reponse

Photo of legislature.
Austen Diamond for KUER
Utah's legislature has called itself into a special session to address the state's COVID-19 response among other things. They will meet virtually for the first time in state history.

Legislative leaders announced Monday night they have called the Utah legislature into a special session set to begin Thursday morning. 

Lawmakers will meet virtually for the first time in state history, with the exception of the Speaker of the House and the Senate President, who will be in their respective chambers in the Capitol. They are set to discuss several aspects of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, and tackle several bills that Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed from this year’s general session. 

"We are working together to achieve the most favorable outcomes in our state's fight against the virus, protecting Utah's families as well as Utah's businesses," Senate President Stuart Adams said in a statement. "As we navigate these unprecedented times, we are committed to finding innovative solutions to do what is in the best interest of all Utahns. Together, we will get through this."

Special sessions typically last only one day, but this one will last 10 days, the maximum amount of time allowed by the state constitution. Legislative leaders have said they will likely have to call several special sessions throughout the course of the year to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. The House and Senate will meet at different times due to technical restraints. 

There will be no committee meetings during this special session, “due to the extraordinary circumstances and the time required to set up a virtual chamber system,” a joint House and Senate press release said. Bills will be available on the legislature’s website, and lawmakers are encouraging people to contact their local representatives to voice their opinions on the legislation. 

Here are some topics the legislature intends to cover during its special session: 

  • Modifying local governments’ authority to issue stay-at-home orders

  • Removing the requirement to hold in-person elections, and instead allowing counties to decide whether to open polling places or only utilize vote by mail

  • Deciding how to spend $100 million out of roughly $700 million in federal aid, which would likely go towards medical supplies like personal protective equipment and testing supplies

  • A resolution informing state agencies that the state will have less money available for next year’s budget than originally forecasted

  • Reducing wait time requirements for unemployment insurance

  • Creating requirements and processes for how the state’s economy will reopen

  • Changes to a bill vetoed by Gov. Herbert that would repeal a tax exemption for train fuel sales and used the money for railroad crossing construction projects

  • Changes to a bill Gov. Herbert vetoed that would create a scholarship for kids with special and give a tax credit to people and businesses who donated to the scholarship fund

  • Making minor changes to the state’s budget. House Speaker Brad Wilson said a larger overhaul of the budget will likely come during a special session in May or June. 

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

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