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Your first look at the Utah State Legislature's historic and 'virtual' special session

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Posted at 4:43 PM, Apr 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-10 18:50:10-04

SALT LAKE CITY — When the Utah State Legislature meets next week in a special session to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be historic for a number of reasons.

Lawmakers are expected to call themselves into special session, the first time since voters approved a constitutional change to allow it in an emergency (and a pandemic qualifies as an emergency). It will also be the first time most of the elected representatives and senators will meet without stepping foot in the Utah State Capitol.

Because of the novel coronavirus and the size of the House and Senate chambers, lawmakers cannot appropriately social distance. At least one lawmaker, Senate Minority Whip Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, is recovering from COVID-19. So they will meet online.

Video shared with FOX 13 by the Utah State Senate showed them testing out the online conferencing system that will allow lawmakers to meet and debate bills to be presented. Laptops were on desks showing lawmakers sitting in their homes, waiting to speak and cast a "virtual vote." From the dais of Senate President J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, monitors showed the senators in a grid.

"In anticipation of a special session, we are testing the virtual chamber system for Utah's first-ever virtual session," said Aundrea Peterson, the Senate's communications director.

FOX 13 reported on the proposed special session last week. Lawmakers are expected to take up a number of topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are bills to deal with local health orders (and whether they go to far), education and the pandemic, budgets and keeping the economy afloat, and the upcoming primary election.