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Legislature decides not to extend Utah's state of emergency for COVID-19

Posted at 11:54 AM, Aug 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-19 20:55:36-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Legislature has declined to extend the state of emergency for COVID-19, forcing the governor to potentially issue another one in order to keep millions in federal money coming to the state and existing regulations in place.

Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, announced at the beginning of the legislature's Interim Political Subdivisions Committee, that a discussion on emergency powers was being pulled from the agenda. FOX 13 reported earlier in the day that Governor Gary Herbert and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill were in negotiations over the state of emergency, which expires Aug. 20.

"The bill was not ready for prime time," Sen. Anderegg said. "The original bill had both Emergency Management Act revisions as well a joint resolution to extend the existing state of emergency."

Sen. Anderegg said the House and Senate Majority Caucuses did not have support for modifications to the governor's powers, nor was there support to extend the state of emergency.

But Gov. Herbert could go ahead and issue a new state of emergency for 30 more days. His office did not immediately have comment on it, beyond saying they were speaking with House and Senate leaders to find "the best path forward."

Utah has been in a state of emergency since mid-March, when COVID-19 arrived. Members of the legislature have scrutinized the governor's use of emergency powers and whether the state of emergency should continue. Utah's laws were not designed for a pandemic and the state of emergency was barely extended by lawmakers at the last special session. They've recently passed bills requiring him to consult with leadership on executive orders and health regulations.

But tied to the state of emergency is millions in federal relief dollars and some COVID-19 health regulations. Once the state of emergency lapses, the state could lose out on a lot of money.

Sen. Anderegg took issue with that. He said they looked at federal laws to see what would be impacted.

"By and large, the answer is no," he said, rejecting claims that hundreds of millions was at stake.

Lawmakers have reported being hit with phone calls and emails from a group that does not want the state of emergency extended, most complaining of government overreach and minimizing the pandemic.

"They are relentless and rude. One called me at 1:00 am, another at 11:00 pm. This is not persuasion, it is harassment. Plus, they are not my constituents," House Minority Whip Carol Spackman Moss posted on Twitter.