SALT LAKE CITY– The Utah 2021 general legislative session begins Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, with some big priorities, and big differences amid the pandemic.
The state capitol remains closed to the public for health and safety reasons. The session will be fully online for now.
But Senate President Stuart Adams says they have made new ways people can participate remotely. In the past, committee hearings had audio streams, but people had to be there in-person to testify or give public comment. This year, those committee meetings will be streamed on video, and people can testify remotely on video.
“Almost as if they were there in person,” said Adams.
Adams noted it will keep people from gathering during the pandemic, but it also allows more people to participate without having to drive long distances or arrange babysitting.
“This is the year to have public input and hear the voice of the people. There’s never been an easier time to be able to join in the public process in committees,” said Adams.
“It’s going to be different, but there’s going to be plenty of ways, in fact there will be new ways and more ways for people to engage,” said House Speaker Brad Wilson.
The Senate and House Floor time will continue to be streamed over video like in the past on le.utah.gov.
Tackling COVID-19 challenges and the budget during the Utah legislative session
Adams said lawmakers will be tested for COVID-19 twice a week. They will also have face masks and physical distancing.
The pandemic and COVID-19 response is a top issue for lawmakers. Governor Cox’s budget would take a chunk of money to help with COVID-19 testing and the vaccine rollout.
“One of the things that has been most concerning to me has been mental health. We’ve seen the challenges, the anxiety, both economically and with people’s health,” said Adams.
Education funding already got a boost of $400 million to the base budget.
“By already funding growth, inflation, student enrollment, as well as a significant increase in the WPU, and a large bonus for teachers across the state,” said Wilson.
Balancing power, affordable housing, homelessness and infrastructure needs are other big priorities.
Adams explained a lot of people have moved here for the open space and because of how Utah has handled the pandemic.
“We’re going to have to work on infrastructure, and continue to work on infrastructure. Water, roads, double-tracking Frontrunner, trying to deal with the issues that growth brings,” he said.
Lawmakers have already made it known they will talk about a tax cut, too. They set aside $80 million last year for a tax cut but held on to it because of pandemic economic worries. However, legislative leaders state Utahns need that money now.
“The end of the day, it’s putting that dividend back into the pockets of Utahns so they can determine how to spend that money,” said Wilson.
Utah Democrats focus on helping lower-income residents and police reform
But House minority leader Brian King says Democrats want to make sure tax breaks are targeted to help lower income communities and those heavily impacted by COVID-19.
“I don’t want to cut taxes just to say we are cutting taxes, I want to cut taxes in a way that most effectively addresses the needs of the state right now,” said King.
King also wants to focus on police reform.
“There will also be some significant legislation discussion and policy discussion surrounding guns,” said King, including his repeated attempts for universal background checks.
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