Lawmakers reach compromise with the governor on bill requiring notification of emergency actions

Utah Capitol 07

A Utah governor would have to tell lawmakers about any emergency order he or she issues during a pandemic 24 hours before it takes effect, under an agreement reached between GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and Republican legislative leaders.

House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, originally wanted a 48-hour notification, but Herbert disapproved of that, in part saying he believed it harmed the executive’s balance of power with the legislative branch.

So the bill was held during the two-day special session last week so an agreement could be worked out.

The 24-hour notice is that compromise.

Gibson said that GOP legislative leaders got only a 15-minute notice before Herbert issued one of his orders (apparently the one that closed all schools, so had a big impact on Utahns’ lives).

That wasn’t good enough, said Gibson.

Also added to the compromise is that beside imminent threat to life — under which the governor wouldn’t have to notify lawmakers immediately — also added was serious bodily injury or substantial harm to property. If any of those three things are pending, the governor can act without notifying the Legislature first.

While it would be difficult for GOP leaders to call a special session within 24 hours and stop the governor from issuing an executive order in a pandemic that lawmakers didn’t want, it perhaps could be done.

For lawmakers to call themselves into a special session, a poll of House and Senate members must take place, with two-thirds wishing to come into session. If leaders got that vote, then the Senate president and House speaker call the session and set the agenda.

If leaders moved really quickly, perhaps that could be done. But that would have been easier if the governor had to give a 48-hour notice before an executive order during a pandemic took effect.

After the Senate passed the compromise earlier Thursday morning, some House conservatives didn’t want to go along, saying 48 hours is plenty.

But Gibson and others argued that if the House didn’t agree to the changes, the Senate wouldn’t pass the original bill, Herbert might veto it, if the Senate did, and House Republicans wouldn’t even have the 24-hour notice.

“No one has been more frustrated” by the compromises that had to be made, said Gibson. But the Legislature can come back later if Herbert doesn’t give adequate warnings on his executive orders over the coronavirus. There will be several more special sessions this spring and summer, some GOP leaders said.

At the very least, lawmakers could come into special session soon after the governor’s order takes effect, and it could be changed or repealed through resolution, the bill says.

The new law now goes to Herbert, who has indicated he will sign it.

Herbert has already agreed to a special virus commission, passed last week that has given the governor some ideas on re-opening the government — moving from red, many businesses closed, to moderate (orange) by May 1.