Lawmakers Debate Whether to Extend Herbert's Emergency Declaration or End It
Utah lawmakers are reportedly grappling behind the scenes whether to extend the state of emergency giving Utah Gov. Gary Herbert extraordinary governing power during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawmakers extended that state of emergency last in June, but that might not be the case when the order expires on Thursday.
In June, state Sen. Ron Winterton, who represents Wasatch County, Park City, and the Uintah Basin in the 29th Senate District, voted against giving Gov. Herbert the emergency powers to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
State Rep. Tim Quinn says he too will vote against an extension of emergency power on Thursday.
The issue was discussed in the political subdivisions interim committee Wednesday afternoon.
The o-going debate is that without an emergency declaration, lawmakers could abandon all of the coronavirus restrictions put into place by the governor, like allowing businesses to reopen back to “normal” and striking down the mask mandate that applies all schools and school buses.
However, the governor could just issue another executive order to keep some restrictions in place.
Rep. Quinn says while he voted to extend the powers in both April and June – he will not authorize another extension.
He says he has heard from teacher constituents who are concerned that without a mask mandate, their lives are in danger. But Quinn believes that it’s an issue better left for local school districts to decide.
“Dependent upon the wording of the bill, I would vote, I guess, to not extend those authorities,” he said. “The reason I voted in June was because we all wanted the seat at the proverbial table and that was the way to do it, but I think that it’s better and most teachers’ concerns are about masks in schools, and I said that those decisions should be made by each school district.”
One teacher, he says, told him that the Park City School District was “woefully” unprepared for classes to open with regard to installing plexiglass and providing meaningful social distancing in the classrooms, as well as having enough PPE and cleaning supplies for teachers.
Quinn says he asked her if that’s the case, then why would she want to follow the governor’s recommendations, since it’s the governor who is leading the effort.
“Maybe if the school district didn’t have the governor as ... a scapegoat and they had to make policy on their own, they would do a better job and maybe this teacher would be happier with the results,” he said.
He says the governor has the right to override the expiration of the emergency declaration via executive orders – but only to a certain point.
“No matter what we do as a legislature, whether we extend the powers or vote not to extend the powers, the governor still has and should have some executive authority. Where that line begins and where that line ends I’m not certain of.”
Quinn noted that this is an unprecedented legislative session and he expects they lawmakers will have another one or two more special sessions by the end of the year. With dozens of agenda items set for Thursday – he believes many of them could wait until next January.
“I think the majority of these special sessions ought to around the budget and the budget shortfall that COVID and the response to COVID has had, and I think it’s such a shame that we will be in our sixth special session and we will probably have somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 or 50 bills that have nothing to do, nothing to do with the budget,” he said.
While the Utah State Legislature is temporarily holding interim committee meetings and special sessions virtually ] due to COVID-19 health concerns, Utahns are encouraged to participate by submitting inquiries and feedback directly to their legislators or remotely by participating in committee meetings.
Floor proceedings will be streamed on the Legislature’s website and televised on KUEN channel 9.2 and Comcast channel 388 (Senate), and KUEN 9.3 Comcast 387 (House).