Executive Branch Could See Checks And Balances During Public Health Emergencies

Feb 22, 2021


  A new bill could limit executive power during public health emergencies. 

Original state code for emergency powers dates back to the 1950s, long before Utah had any inclination that it would face a long term pandemic. 

Lawmakers raised concerns over the duration of the Emergency Management Act. The act allows the governor and state and local health departments to create public health orders and extend them after they expire. 

Sen. Evan Vickers (R-Cedar City) is sponsoring a bill that would govern long term emergency declaration. 

 

“Now, in this bill, we don't change anything that happens in 30 days,” Vickers said. “The first 30 days, you know, the governor, the local health departments and others...all they have to do is notify and go forward with what they need to do.”

The executive branch would also have to give 24 hours notice to legislators before declaring a public emergency. 

The bill would create a Legislative Emergency Response Committee, making lawmakers the only branch able to extend an emergency declaration past the original 30-day time frame. 

During his news conference Thursday, Governor Spencer Cox said his office respects the legislature’s decision to propose the bill. 

“We have made mistakes during this, this pandemic, for sure,” Cox said. “I would argue that one of the mistakes that we made was not communicating better with the legislature about changes that were happening.”

When there is a final version of the bill, he says his office will announce if they support it. 

The bill also mirrors checks and balances on the local level. County governing bodies would have the ability to terminate any health orders from an executive or local health department. 

The bill offers some checks for the public. One of which would allow a forum for the public to offer input to the legislative emergency response committee.

Under current law people who violate health orders could be subject to a $10,000 fine. Instead, Vicker’s bill would limit the penalties for individuals to $150, while businesses could still receive the hefty $10,000 fine.

The bill was introduced last Tuesday, the next day it unanimously passed a Senate Committee meeting. Discussion on the bill was put on hold during Senate Floor time Friday to resume Monday.