With a few glitches, Utah lawmakers begin inaugural online-only session

20200416 Wilson Online Session

The Utah Legislature got underway Thursday morning with just a few glitches in a historic online, virtual special session.

The work started in the House, as the Senate and House will take turns being online.

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville — wearing a new beard — in opening remarks said the state should start opening up economically May 1.

So far, GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, while extending the Stay Home, Stay Safe voluntary closure to May 1, has not said the state should start opening in just two weeks.

While Wilson praised Herbert and members of the executive branch of government, he said it is now time for the legislative branch to take its part in setting policy and the budget, and he said several new bills, just made public Thursday morning, will be discussed Friday by the virtual meeting, maybe even into next week.

As reported previously by UtahPolicy.com, there could be more virtual special sessions called by the Legislature before the start of the new fiscal year, July 1.

There are no public committee meetings as part of this special online session. And Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, said such public meetings should be accommodated in future such sessions.

Wilson agreed and said there wasn’t time for this session to get electronic public hearings on the bills, but that perhaps in the future they can be.

Wilson said there are ways to send in emails and other comments on the bills.

But things were going pretty fast Thursday morning. Several of the bills were substituted — new versions introduced and adopted — with not that much time for the public to even read the new changes. Those won’t be taken up until Friday, said Wilson.

However, it is clear that Utah state government is being conducted on the run, so to speak, and Wilson said this special session is the first virtual meeting of a state legislative branch in the nation — possible by a law passed in the final days of the 2020 general session and great work by the IT legislative staff, among others, getting the 104 part-time lawmakers online Thursday.

For example, the Utah Education Network was supposed to broadcast the session over the air on channel 9.2. But that didn’t start immediately, coming on after about half an hour.

And while the Legislature’s own live streaming of the House actions early on was working, depending on your live feed technologies, Wilson’s picture was breaking up, freezing, while the audio did work.

The opening votes in the House included an emotional address by Rep. Melissa Garff Ballard, R-North Salt Lake. Her father, former Utah House Speaker Robert (Bob) Garff was the fourth Utahn to die of the coronavirus, and her resolution praises all the Utahn who are working so hard in this crisis. Her voice broke up several times as she spoke about the great efforts being made by so many Utahns.