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Utah's Legislature Is Meeting Virtually For The First Time — Here's How It Works

Photo of a laptop computer screen showing a video conference call
Courtesy of Candice Pierucci
During virtual floor time, Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, sits at her kitchen table looking at a WebEx call with all her colleagues (right) and an online portal she can use to vote, request to speak, and make a point of order.

Normally, the sound of chimes in the Capitol calls representatives to the House chamber to debate and vote on bills. Now, it brings them to their computers. 

For Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, it brought her to her kitchen table, where she had cleared a corner and set up her laptop. 

During floor time, Pierucci said she has at least three windows up on her computer: a video WebEx call with all 75 of her colleagues, an online voting portal built by legislative staff, and the bill they’re debating. 

“Other than me sitting in my kitchen, it feels like you're at the Capitol voting,” Pierucci said. 

She also has her phone out, texting and emailing with constituents and other representatives. 

“It's pretty common to be calling and texting your colleagues and constituents so that’s pretty much the same,” Pierucci said. “You can't go right next to them at their desk, but you're still able to communicate.”

To prevent hackers, the Legislature is using WebEx, which is more secure than Zoom, according to Jim Stewart with the Utah Education Network, which helped set up the virtual session. Lawmakers are emailed a link to the WebEx conference room, which they are asked not to share with anyone.

The system has had relatively few noticeable glitches, other than a nationwide WebEx outage on the first day of the special session. That delayed Senate floor time by about an hour.

“We actually had to scramble,” Stewart said. “We worked on that for a while and we ended up having to move everything over to Zoom.” 

Beyond that, Stewart said, the biggest challenge to setting up the virtual session was training all 104 lawmakers to use WebEx, many of whom had never used it before.

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

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