SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House of Representatives rejected an attempt to amend a bill about the governor's emergency powers that would have immediately lifted the statewide mask mandate.
With some members shouting "NO!" they resisted Rep. Phil Lyman's proposed substitution to Senate Bill 195. While arguing in favor of individual rights, his substitute wanted to include language that would have repealed the mandate imposed last year by then-Governor Gary Herbert and continued under Governor Spencer Cox.
His substitute specifically would be "prohibiting certain testing of an individual younger than 18 years old without written consent of the individual's parent or guardian; and prohibiting an order of constraint or order of restriction from requiring the wearing of a mask or face covering."
"It comes back to our constitutional rights to privacy and healthy people being treated as unhealthy people," Rep. Lyman, R-Blanding, argued on the House floor against "orders of constraint."
Rep. Lyman had supporters from some in the chamber. Rep. Rex Shipp, R-Cedar City, stood to give his backing. But House Republican leaders urged votes against it, arguing the bill was carefully crafted in negotiations between Gov. Cox, the Senate and Utah's Department of Health.
"This bill creates a much better process and one we can all use and work together," said Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem, who serves as the assistant House Majority Whip.
The bill allows the legislature to review a public health order or state of emergency declaration after 30 days and, if they vote to, it can be terminated. A similar mechanism was built in for county governments and local health departments. It stems from a public spat between Gov. Herbert and the legislature when they declined to renew his state of emergency for COVID-19 last year. The governor let it expire and issued a new one every 30 days.
Asked about the potential for the amendment by FOX 13, Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said he would oppose any effort to remove the statewide mask mandate. He worried about it causing a spike just as COVID-19 cases were declining and Utah was reporting good news with vaccines.
"We have to be cautious and we have to be careful and not allow something to derail that train," he said.
Sen. Vickers said his bill is meant to be forward looking, as Utah's state of emergency laws were designed for natural disasters and not pandemics.
The House agreed to an amendment about religious gatherings and making accommodations for them, but rejected a request by Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan, to have language read into the House journal that their intent was to protect individual rights.
The bill itself passed the House and now goes to the Senate for a final vote on the last day of the 2021 legislative session.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said in a statement she opposes the bill and called it an "overreaction" to COVID-19 by the legislature.
"Legislative bodies manage budgets and make policies. Chief executives manage the staff and assets that are necessary to protect the health and safety of the public as well as private property," she said. "Additionally, health departments serve a vital role during health emergencies given their specific expertise, and that expertise should not be ignored or undermined."
The mayor said they should not be deliberating this while the emergency is ongoing.
"This bill impairs the ability of an executive to nimbly and swiftly manage an emergency," she said.