Emergency declarations, guns, and national monument authority are some of the issues Utah state legislators are addressing during the 64th general session – House District 54 Representative Mike Kohler, navigating his second week on Capitol Hill, has provided KPCW with an update.
HD 54 covers Wasatch County and the municipal city boundaries of Park City. Kohler, a Republican, defeated Democrat Meghan Miller in the November election to replace two-term GOP Rep. Tim Quinn
Kohler said he is at the capitol most days and undergoing COVID-19 tests twice a week. He serves on the House Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee, and he finds it easier to be there in person rather than a remote Zoom meeting.
“We meet every morning,” he said. “It’s the largest budget of the committee assignments. It’s huge. It reaches almost everybody in the state when it comes to social services, help with mental health, etc.”
The committee meeting calendar can be found here.
HB 114, sponsored by Andrew Stoddard, would restrict emergency executive powers. Former Gov. Gary Herbert came under fire for closing businesses and churches at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kohler hasn’t read the bill yet but said he ran on a commitment to maintaining local control.
“It’s going to be a long conversation up here until they find a balance on that. I'll reserve that until I read the bill and actually see some of the activities. But in general, I said when I got in here that I do a lot of this based on defense. Meaning I want to make sure that we maintain freedom, that we have local control, that we don't impose unless it’s really imperative that we don't impose the states will on local jurisdiction.”
HB 60 passed 54 to 19 in the House on Tuesday. It drops the permit requirement for carrying a concealed firearm. Kohler said he supports the bill and thinks there will be more amendments before it passes into law.
“I’ve supported similar ideas in the past and I have had a lot of calls in,” he said. “Many, many more for, than against it. In my opinion … training is important, and I think there was an amendment put in to have more side training and involvement with prevention. I think you'll probably see most of the people that I think this would affect are simply law abiders. They're not going to have to do anything of harm. The ones that aren't going to abide by the law are concealed carrying already.”
HB 0197-S01 restricts how easily voters can switch their party affiliation. Utah Republican rules establish a closed primary allowing only registered Republicans to vote in a primary election.
“In this last section because the Democrats didn't have really any votes for the primaries, you saw a lot of switching to have an effect and frankly, then the only way you have an involvement in the Governor's race,” Kohler said. “So, I can't say I blame them, but I reserve judgment until I see the bill and see what it actually is trying to do.”
The land area of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments were shrunken by the previous administration, thereby allowing extraction and other development on the land they previously covered. The Biden administration is taking steps to restore both monuments to their original size. U.S. Senators Mike Lee and Mitt Romney have introduced legislation to limit presidential powers to expand National Monuments. Kohler said he opposes expanding the monuments.
“I don’t know the area well,” Kohler said. “I am going by what I hear from representatives from that area. What I would support and what the state has done, both from the Governor and from legislative leaders is ask for a dialogue with federal people before they do it. I don't expect that is going to happen. I hope that we can get into a conversation to make it reasonable and to get local people involved.”
Kohler sits on the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee and the House Political Subdivisions Committee.