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Utah lawmakers to meet in special session, sidestepping hot button issues

XGR Utah
Posted at 9:45 AM, May 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-17 23:44:11-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Legislature will meet in a special session on Wednesday to spend $1.65 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money and deal with some bills.

Governor Spencer Cox issued a call of the legislature on Monday morning, but he included some bills — largely technical fixes to legislation that passed in the 2021 session that ended in March.

In a letter to House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and Senate President J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, the governor declined to take up two controversial topics: declaring Utah a "Second Amendment Sanctuary" and a ban on discussing "critical race theory" in schools.

"I am on record saying that CRT has no place in our curriculum. The difficulty, however, comes in defining terms and making sure that we are never stifling thought or expression — and that we make sure our children learn both the best of our past as well as our mistakes so we don’t repeat them. We must also make it abundantly clear that Utah is a place that welcomes everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or any other background. It is who we are, and it may be easy to lose sight of that during a knee-jerk debate," the governor wrote.

The Senate President said he was disappointed.

"I would have liked to have seen them both on, especially the critical race theory," Sen. Adams told FOX 13.

The governor did include an extension of the ongoing state of emergency for drought on the special session call. He also added a resolution supporting Utah's Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and condemning anti-Asian hate crimes.

"A very important part of it is that is very pro-Asian American and Pacific Islander community," said House Minority Whip Karen Kwan, D-Taylorsville, who supported the resolution.

There will be a bill giving more regulatory power to Utah's Department of Health on e-cigarettes. He also included a ban on mask mandates for K-12 schools. For months, Gov. Cox kept a mask mandate for Utah's schools in place until he suddenly reversed his decision last week, allowing school districts to lift them for the last week of the school year only.

The big issue will be to spend American Rescue Plan Act money. In an interview with FOX 13, Senate President J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said they would likely allocate the money but not spend it all at once.

"That gives everyone including the public, not only more involvement but greater comfort in the way the money is being expended," said Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, who oversees budget matters for the House.

Guidance released to legislative leadership designated the money in "buckets." It includes:

  • $720 million for infrastructure improvements like transportation, recreational infrastructure, state facilities.
  • $115 million for public health response to COVID-19.
  • $65 million for businesses and nonprofits impacted by COVID-19 including arts, hospitality, small businesses.
  • $280 million for water infrastructure including secondary metering, evaporation mitigation, dam safety, etc.
  • $175 million for broadband internet expansion, including improvements to government networks, public hotspots, and "last-mile" broadband grants.
  • $80 million for summer school, after school capacity, remote degree programs, high-demand scholarships.
  • $110 million for emergency preparedness should it happen again.
  • $35 million for courts as they re-open from the pandemic including backlogged cases, virtual jury trials, etc.
  • $70 million for housing and homelessness issues, including food security and affordable housing needs.

Sen. Adams said Utah is faring better than other states and they will be prudent with the money.

"We’re seeing the threat of COVID move behind us and we’ve got a great economy and we’ve got money," he told FOX 13.

But lawmakers will not consider any prizes or incentives for people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. At a meeting of the legislature's powerful Executive Appropriations Committee, House Minority Leader Brian King asked about the idea that was advanced by Gov. Cox.

He was told GOP leaders were not likely to support it.

Read the special session call here:

Special session call 1
Special Session call 2