IRON COUNTY, Utah — Citing the need for "real interaction" and concerns over public safety, commissioners from several counties in Utah have asked for the state's upcoming legislative session to be delayed.
Iron County Commissioner Paul Cozzens released a letter on Facebook signed by 11 other state county commissioners in which they ask that the session be held in person and not digitally.
"Utahns are suffering from digital burnout and crave face-to-face interaction." the letter reads. "We have witnessed the measures people will take when they feel ignored. Some have turned to vandalism or violence whether by setting fire to police vehicles, protesting at the homes of civil servants, or responding with brazen noncompliance to unilateral edicts."
But it won't be moved. Because of the potential for COVID-19 spread and, most recently, threats of violence following the deadly protests at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, a decision was made to keep the Utah State Capitol closed to the general public and only allow digital access for the public at the start of the legislative session on Tuesday.
“There’s just a lot of frustration that we feel like, with a virtual type of legislature, the people's voice is not being heard," said Beaver County Commissioner Mark Whitney. “With all due respect to our good legislators, I think they even see the value on how important it is for us that we be heard and that we be heard in person, not virtually.”
Cozzens believes if there's a safety issue for the public, that should extend to the state's lawmakers.
"If it's too dangerous to allow elected officials to represent our constituents in the State legislative process then it's too dangerous for legislators to attend. Either postpone or cancel it," Cozzens told FOX 13.
A small number of protesters gathered at the Utah State Capitol on Sunday and remained peaceful as law enforcement officers vastly outnumbered those who came to protest.
"We ask you to find the courage to meet the people at the Capitol, if the people are prohibited to attend for the first week, delay the session for the week or postpone this year's session," the letter continues. "More than any time in recent memory, the people need to be heard. For the sake of the countless Utahns worried about their delinquent mortgage or rent payments, for the sake of business owners trying to keep workers employed, for the sake of Utah's silent forgotten, we ask you to open up the people's house."
House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said that while the commissioners posted the letter to social media, they never made the request to those in charge of the session. Therefore, Speaker Wilson told FOX 13 the session will begin as scheduled.
However, lawmakers will be a mix of in-person and virtual attendance. The Utah State Capitol has created physically-distant committee rooms and put up plexiglass barriers between legislators. Masks are also mandated throughout the Capitol grounds.
“We’ve been trying to perfect this hybrid method through the interim," said Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers. "I still am concerned and want to make sure that we have adequate public input on these bills. If that means we need to slow down a process, so be it.
Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson responded on Twitter simply that the request is "Not going to happen."
Not going to happen. https://t.co/G3GnTyiwFR
— Deidre Henderson (@DeidreHenderson) January 18, 2021