Utah lawmakers are gearing up for a special, online-only, legislative session later this week. The agenda may include measures allowing Utahns to access experimental treatments for coronavirus and the best way to re-open businesses in the state amid the current pandemic.
Legislative sources tell UtahPolicy.com that the session will happen on Wednesday or Thursday, with the House beginning proceedings online followed later by the Senate. There will be a practice session on Monday evening to work out any technical issues.
The number of possible topics lawmakers will consider has grown in recent days, forcing legislative attorneys to work at a feverish pace in order to draft bills for the session.
The latest list of issues lawmakers may tackle in the session, obtained by UtahPolicy.com ranges from fixing the budget to addressing how to re-open businesses in the state following the coronavirus pandemic.
Foremost on the agenda is legislation to make changes to the state budget because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Lawmakers must adjust the current fiscal year following the change in the tax filing date from April to July, which shifts revenue from this year into next. They’ll also appropriate federal money that’s part of the coronavirus stimulus bill and make other changes.
Lawmakers will also tackle several policy issues, including making changes to unemployment insurance and shifting tax deadlines.
House Majority Whip Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, is preparing legislation to provide rental/utility and business assistance as well as exploring how to re-open businesses once the main danger from the coronavirus has passed. He would not elaborate on what ideas he’s exploring to accomplish those goals
“There are still lots of options. We’re trying to figure out what's the best option,” said Schultz. “We know that we’re going to be dealing with this situation for the next 9-24 months. We can't ‘stay home and stay safe’ for that long,” said Schultz. “We need to figure out how to live and stay safe with this virus, knowing that people are going to catch it but doing the best we can to minimize the impact."
Schultz is referring to Gov. Gary Herbert's "stay safe, stay home" directive, instructing Utahns to remain in their houses as much as possible to slow down the spread of the infection in the state. Herbert announced last week his directive has been extended to the end of the month.
“The rest of us need to figure out how to live our lives while taking precautions to keep ourselves, our families and others safe,” he continued.
The state's economy has taken a major hit during the first few weeks of the pandemic. Unemployment has jumped dramatically as a number of businesses have been forced to furlough or lay off employees as Utahns are staying home to control the disease.
There may also be an effort to expand the state’s “right to try” legislation to include experimental treatments for COVID-19. The 2015 law allowed terminally ill patients to access medical treatments not approved by the FDA. In 2018, that was expanded to include medical cannabis, which was rendered moot when voters approved Prop. 3 later that year. There is a current controversy brewing over the use of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, to treat the coronavirus. President Donald Trump has relentlessly promoted the use of the drug, while medical experts say there's not enough evidence to make any definitive statements about its efficacy.
Legislators will also tackle changes to the state’s unemployment insurance and workers' compensation programs to bring them in line with adjustments on the federal level.
Other potential issues for the special session include moving the state’s primary election from June to July, preempting the ability of local governments to enact harsher restrictions than the rest of the state to curb the coronavirus and the governmental use of emergency powers.