Utah's Sixth Special Session of 2020
Last week the Utah State Legislature met for its sixth special session of 2020. You probably saw in the news that the Legislature allowed the State of Emergency for COVID-19 to expire, leading to its immediate renewal by Governor Herbert. As a legislator, I was, and am, in favor of ending this emergency declaration. However, I wanted to vote to end it, as opposed to allowing it to expire, which gave the governor more flexibility in promptly declaring another State of Emergency. I received roughly 90 emails in favor of ending the emergency status and only three opposed -- giving the people a voice, to me, meant making a decision to definitively end the declaration as opposed to punting to the governor.
Please rest assured that there are ongoing efforts to work with the executive branch as well as to re-evaluate what Utah code says with regards to executive power during an emergency. The code as it stands was designed for natural disasters, not a pandemic. It needs to be changed to reflect different types of emergency situations. Many are also working to reduce the overall authority of health departments statewide to an advisory capacity. Re-instating the legislative branch as the law-making authority in Utah is crucial in preventing executive overreach.
In addition, we also voted on a total of 23 bills. Here are some key highlights:
1 -- SB 6007 -- This bill requires each Utah county to provide in-person voting, both early and on election day. While I had some reservations about the state mandating the voting rules in counties, I voted in favor of this bill to prohibit the possibility that the Lieutenant Governor can ban in-person voting. In a perfect world, I would have preferred this bill to use language more in favor of local control. This same bill also expands the ballot tampering restriction to include ballot harvesting, with a charge of a class A misdemeanor for offenders. Ballot harvesting is a process associated with rampant fraud that compromises the integrity of our elections, so I am proud to be part of this change.
3 -- SB 6006 -- This bill amends the qualifications for the executive director of the Utah Dept of Health. The Utah Medical Association was in favor of this bill, and I deferred to their expertise on the matter and supported the bill as well.
I know there are also many questions about state mandates, such as the state mandate requiring masks in schools. I strongly oppose statewide mandates because Utah is so diverse that a one-size-fits-all solution is rarely the best answer! What's going on in Salt Lake City does not reflect the situation in rural counties, and local control correctly dictates that such decisions be made at the local level. I won't go into the mask issue more here, but if you have any questions please call me! I'd love to chat policy with you. You can also find more information about where I stand on my Facebook page.
Representative Kera Birkeland