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Utah State Legislature pushes bills through in response to COVID-19

Don't shake hands at Capitol
Posted at 10:51 AM, Mar 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-12 13:49:23-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Legislature is pushing through a series of measures to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in the final hours of the session.

Senate President J. Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson announced $24 million has been appropriated to help seniors, who are most susceptible to the novel coronavirus.

"Utah has a rainy-day fund, a culture of preparedness and the best health care personnel in the country who specializes in infectious diseases," said Sen. Adams in a statement. "Elderly are at a higher risk and why we are funding programs to protect those most vulnerable. We have conquered similar challenges in the past and will continue to work together to overcome this while minimizing the burden to Utahns and our businesses. Our strong economy gives us the flexibility to handle this situation."

That's in addition to $16 million appropriated by lawmakers to the Utah Department of Health and $4 million for Utah's Division of Emergency Management dealing with COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the Senate is taking up a bill to extend the state of emergency in Utah on COVID-19 until June 30. It frees up resources for the state to respond. The House will consider a resolution that would allow the legislature to meet remotely over the internet in cases of emergency.

Another bill that has rocketed to the top of the priority list is Rep. Melissa Ballard's bill to expand telehealth services in Utah. House Bill 313 would let any doctor utilize telehealth services. Right now, some insurance companies limit it, Rep. Ballard, R-North Salt Lake, said in an interview Thursday with FOX 13.

"It is essential because we do not want to have people who are ill or think they have the coronavirus or even the flu, they need to be able to go quickly and, through telehealth, be able to have those conversations with their doctors to know what to do," she said.

Rep. Ballard said she has had conversations with Governor Gary Herbert's office about making it go into effect sooner, should it pass the Senate.

The legislature passed a resolution expressing support for the Chinese people as they deal with novel coronavirus. Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, said on the House floor they wished to show solidarity with an important trade partner.

Capitol Hill, the seat of state government, has tried to react quickly to protect itself. Legislative leadership has told lawmakers not to shake hands and has suspended public notes being sent into the House and Senate chambers. But befitting a public building -- school field trips are still allowed.

This weekend, once the legislature adjourns, Capitol Hill will undergo a disinfecting cleaning. Utah's Division of Facilities and Capitol Management said it is not only in response to coronavirus concerns, but because the building is stuffed with people during the legislative session.