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New bill would restrict emergency powers of governor, mayors and health officials’

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at a COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Emergency powers of the governor, mayors and various health officials’ would be restricted under a new bill.

Looking to limit emergency powers

SB195 came to fruition after some legislative leaders argued that the state’s current emergency powers law never anticipated a long-lasting emergency like that of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill’s House sponsor, Representative Val Peterson, R-Orem, says the measure would bring about changes not only at the state level but also at the county level.

“This bill makes it so the Legislature may terminate those restrictive orders,” he explains. “It also makes it so the county legislative body can also remove those restrictive orders.”

If signed into law, the measure would limit the duration of a public health order to 30 days. It also only allows the Legislature or other legislative bodies to extend or terminate an order.

It also would slash the fine the government can currently impose against someone who violates health orders down from $10,000 per violation to no more than $150 in most cases.

According to Governor Spencer Cox, he has been in close negotiations with legislative leadership about the bill.

“We’re watching this closely,” he explained on Thursday. “I hate that we’re having these fights again right now. We’re so close to the end of this. There are a lot of good things in that bill, things that we agree with. We’re all so close. The end is in sight.”

Arguing against a change

Not all elected officials agree, though. Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson issued a statement earlier this week saying she remains opposed to the bill.

“Legislative bodies manage budgets and make policies,” she said in a prepared statement. “Chief executives manage the staff and assets that are necessary to protect the health and safety of the public as well as private property.”

The bill has been already approved by the Utah House of Representatives, but due to a late amendment, it’s being sent back to the Senate.

There, it is expected to gain final approval and be sent to the governor’s desk. 

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