Covid Health Order Bill At Legislature Had Counties Buzzing

Mar 22, 2021

Credit KPCW Radio

One bill that Summit County expected in the recent state legislative session was a result of the past year of pandemic.     And it prompted a lot of discussion from counties in the state.   

Deputy Summit County Manager Janna Young said the bill was SB 195, Emergency Response Amendments.

She said legislators had heard concerns from the public about Covid-19 health orders.    

“Regarding the length that an emergency declaration could be in place, as well as perceived lack of checks and balances on executive authority, I think primarily at the governor level, but also in the counties where the executive is a different person than the legislative body—so, essentially, all those counties that do not have a commission form of government.”

Young said the bill prompted a lot of discussion among members of the Utah Association of Counties.    She said opinions depended on what form of government existed in each county.        

“Most counties in the state are governed by a County Commission.    And so those counties were generally in support of limiting executive powers.   However, for counties like us in Summit County where we have a Manager-Council form of government, we had concerns because we didn’t want the state to be able to come in here and get rid of our emergency declaration, or interfere with it, because we feel like that decision-making should be done at the local level.”

She said fortunately, a compromise was reached.   The bill passed and is on its way to the governor.   Young said it sets out a timeline.        

“It reinforces that a county executive, like a Mayor or Manager, does have the authority to issue an emergency order.   But they must give the local legislative body 24 hours notice of that order before issuing it.    Here in Summit County, we had excellent coordination between our Council and the Manager and the Health Department.   But there were some other counties where they feel like there should have been more consultation with the legislative body.  So that’s why that’s added in here.   Once the emergency order has been declared by the county executive, it can stand for 30 days.  And within that 30 days, the local legislative body can amend or tweak it.  But then after the 30 days, the State Legislature would then have the authority to retool or tweak the order.”

She said that Summit County officials are maybe not as happy as the rest of their colleagues.       

“I don’t know if the county’s super-thrilled about this bill.  Ultimately, the Association of Counties supported it in  its third version—it went through a lot of iterations—because it felt like it struck the right balance between protecting the legislative power of counties while maintaining executive oversight on emergency response.”

Deputy Summit County Manager Janna Young.