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Bad air day bill would set up more options for state telework

FILE -- With the Wasatch Mountains to the left, a layer of haze and smog covers the Salt Lake Valley on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017. Stuart Johnson, Deseret News With the Wasatch Mountains to the left, a layer of haze and smog covers the Salt Lake Valley on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s air quality has improved so much during the pandemic, that lawmakers seem supportive of allowing more state employees to work from home under certain conditions.

A bill about air quality that has been in the works since last year is moving ahead in the legislature.

The numbers show Utah’s air quality had measurable improvement when people stayed home during last year’s lockdown, and air quality officials say there is still a 15 percent reduction of cars on the road and it is still helping the air.

“Take the state out of the problem in air quality. When we have bad air, there’s no reason we should be asking state employees to get on the roads,” said the bill’s sponsor, State Senator Dan McCay.

Bryce Bird, the director of the Utah Department of Air Quality, told the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee on Monday that about 30 percent of their employees can telework permanently even after pandemic restrictions end.

“With the tools that are available now, and certainly the focus on being productive without being in the office, we are seeing that it is a great possibility,” he said.

This bill would have state agencies identify who could be in the surge telework program on bad air days or even extreme weather.

Bird said his department has a three-day air quality forecast available on and in the Utah Air App. Employers could look at that and assign people to stay home to work.

Piute County Commissioner Darin Bushman told the committee it could help cut down long commutes, too.

“Next to going to the dentist, going to Salt Lake City used to be my least favorite thing to do because of your traffic and your inversion and all of those things. I have to admit, the pandemic certainly changed that,” he said.

He also said the pandemic showed people can be productive while working from home. So Bushman said more state employees ought to be able to live in rural areas and work remotely.

SB15 has passed the Senate already and has now passed through a House committee before it will be brought to the House floor.

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