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Utah Legislature To Meet In Special Session Thursday: Here's What To Look Out For

Photo of the Utah state capitol building.
Brian Albers
For the fourth time this year, the Utah state Legislature is meeting in a special session to respond to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Utah State Legislature is meeting in a special session Thursday to plan for the 2020 General Election, modify the budget, and discuss changes to the Utah Department of Health’s senior management. 

This is the fourth special session the Legislature has convened this year as it works to respond to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Some members will attend virtually while others will participate in the Capitol building. 

2020 General Election Changes

There are a slew of proposed changes to adjust normal election procedures due to the coronavirus pandemic. The June primary election was conducted entirely by mail, with no in-person polling except in San Juan County. But lawmakers are looking to change that in November. The proposals, which would expire in January 2021, include: 

  • Counties must provide in-person voting for early voting and on Election Day, either indoors or outdoors.
  • If a county only has outdoor voting, it cannot allow in-person voter registration or voting by provisional ballot. 
  • The Lieutenant Governor can cancel in-person voting if he determines it’s necessary to protect public health.
  • Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by the end of Election Day. 
  • Poll workers are required to use protective equipment, not work when sick, and practice social distancing when possible. 

Utah Department of Health Senior Leadership Job Requirements

Right now, if the Utah Department of Health executive director is not a physician, the deputy director has to be one. S.B. 6006 would create a chief medical advisor, who must be licensed to practice medicine in Utah. It would require the deputy director to have five years of experience in public health and to have completed a year — not a degree — in a graduate public health program. 

Income Tax Amendments

A bill sponsored by Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, would exempt forgiven business loans through the Paycheck Protection Program from state or corporate income tax. It would also exempt individual rebates through federal COVID-19 relief from income tax. At a committee hearing Wednesday, Harper called the amendments in S.B. 6005 “family-friendly.”

Changing Jail Sentences During Declared Emergency

Jail inmates and prosecutors could ask the court to change the inmate’s sentence during a declared emergency if the Legislature passes H.B. 6010. In order to grant that request, the court would have to find that it is “in the interest of justice” to do so. The bill lays out the factors that the court has to consider to reach that conclusion, including public safety risk, the inmate’s health risk, and whether the inmate has served the majority of their original sentence. 

Municipal Annexation Revisions

A law passed during the 2020 General Session that allowed municipalities to annex land from another county without that county’s permission. H.B. 6007 would repeal those parts of the law, which came into question recently when Hideout, a small town in Wasatch County, tried to annex more than 650 acres of land from Summit County against Summit’s wishes.

Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Sandy, said an amendment he made to the original bill was misrepresented to him, and “was not anything intentional to sneak something in at the last minute for the benefit of anybody, any landowners or anything like that.” 

Local Referendum Amendments

Currently, if a county commission or other local government board makes a legislative decision after April 15, the public can’t challenge it with a citizen referendum until the following year.H.B. 6008 would allow the referendum to be on the general election ballot of the current year. Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, is specifically sponsoring the bill to address an issue regarding a zoning decision in Tooele.

New Oil and Gas Regulations Pause

Lawmakers could put a one year pause on new oil and gas regulations in counties with fewer than 125,000 residents under S.B. 6004. The idea is to alleviate the burden of new regulations on an industry that has dealt with uncertainty throughout the coronavirus pandemic. But environmentalists said the move could hurt air quality, which is especially concerning during a pandemic brought on by a respiratory illness.

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

Emily Means covers politics for KUER. Follow Emily on Twitter @Em_Means13

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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