The COVID-19 pandemic was accompanied by state emergency orders that were longer than any in the state’s history, which created tension between former Governor Gary Herbert and state legislators. Now, Utah’s lawmakers are running a bill to place limits on the governor’s powers in a public health emergency
“This began with emergency powers and what we've seen coming through COVID. There's lots of good and bad things that have happened. And we knew one thing we learned through that process is that we really need to make some modifications to our emergency powers legislation and how we react to these long term emergency situations,” said Sen. Evan Vickers.
Sen. Evan Vickers and other Utah lawmakers spoke about S.B. 195 in a press conference on Wednesday last week. The bill is designed to update the governor’s emergency powers, which lawmakers say are designed to address a short-term event like a natural disaster, but not so much a long-term event like a pandemic.
Among other things, the bill requires the legislature to approve the extension of a state of emergency and requires a public hearing for those extensions. Sen Luz Escamilla said this is important to her because it will help better engage Utahns in legislative decisions.
“At the end of the day, when our constituents are upset they call their elected officials, they want to know what responses of why decisions are being made. And we need to make sure that we have that balance between that executive executive branch, executing on those powers that are given by the legislature,” said Escamilla.
Vickers said he hopes the bill will allow for information to be better accessible to both those in local government and the public. In the future emergency committees will be set up, which will help local governments receive the information they need and the public to weigh in.
Gov. Spencer Cox said he does not know whether or not he will sign the bill yet and will decide when it is finalized.