SALT LAKE CITY — This is not how legislative leaders envisioned the start of another 45-day session.
Lawmakers had hoped by this time, the pandemic would be behind us. But with COVID-19 cases at an all-time high, it's not over yet. So legislative leaders have put in place some measures to keep the session going (and as many people healthy as they can).
House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, who famously banned handshakes in the Utah State Capitol during the early days of the pandemic, has now declared the House of Representatives a "fist bump zone." Signs were put up outside the House chamber declaring it so.
It also cuts germs in a building where tourists and school field trips are abundant.
The public will be welcome once again in the House and Senate galleries, but floor access may be restricted. Governor Spencer Cox bucked the Salt Lake County Council and exempted state-run facilities from its mask mandate. As a result, the Utah House of Representatives said masks are "not required, but certainly welcome."
Because of the surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant, lawmakers, legislative interns and Capitol Hill staffers are being asked to be tested twice a week. If they're not feeling well, they're told to stay home and participate in the session online.
Online participation is becoming a permanent feature of the legislative session. The Utah State Senate said it is continuing with online public comment in committee hearings. You can sign up on the legislature's website to weigh in on particular bills when they're up for debate in committees. However, this year, some committee chairs may ask you to turn on your camera (because it's technically legislative testimony).
The 2022 legislative session starts Tuesday and will run through March 4.