Coronavirus 07

Republicans in the Utah Legislature let it be known Friday: They want the state’s economy opened quickly.

How quickly?

By the end of the month, if not sooner.

In fact, sources tell UtahPolicy.com that GOP legislative leaders already have the names of the new legislative-created health and economic commission ready to be named -- and that the members have been quietly working behind the scenes for days, if not weeks.

By next Wednesday, the new commission will make public recommendations to GOP Gov. Herbert -- who called a joint press conference later Friday to say he agrees with what GOP leaders have done.

If Herbert doesn’t fall into line over the commission’s recommendations by the end of this month -- in effect modify his current “Stay Home, Stay Save” directive, then legislators can come back into special session -- called by themselves -- and basically make him do it through legislation.

Herbert was praised by lawmakers of his own party in passing SB3004, which sets up special coronavirus commission to make recommendations to Herbert about how to open the government while protecting those most vulnerable to the virus.

Well, most of them.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, summed up the feelings of many of the GOP lawmakers -- who may have wanted to use more mollifying language:

Herbert has not moved fast enough to get people out of their homes and back to work, said Ray.

Ray said members of the governor’s various task forces studying the health and economic outlook for the state “are pulling down paychecks” while volunteering their time on fighting the virus and planning an economic comeback.

But some of Ray’s constituents “are two weeks away from losing their homes and their vehicles,” he said.

Ray then gave his perspective: In the 2017 flu season in Utah, 338,000 residents got the flu, 3,900 were hospitalized, and 321 died.

So far with the coronavirus, 2,683 have gotten it, 283 have been hospitalized and 21 have died.

The coronavirus’ impact in Utah “is not out of the norm,” said Ray. “Yet we have shut down the economy.” Utahns are fired up and want to get back to work, he added.

A number of other GOP House members said many of their constituents are frustrated and want out of their homes, back to their churches and jobs.

House sponsor of SB3004, Majority Whip Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, said the immediate goal of the legislative commission “is to move from red” -- shutdown/social distancing -- “to orange,” with a number of economic areas moving to open -- especially elective surgeries and in-restaurant dining, named in the bill.

Along with the color coding -- Utahns can watch for these categories -- the state will move from the current red, to orange, to yellow, to green -- which is basically “back to normal” economic activities, said Schultz.

All under the guidance of the new legislative commission.

Also on Friday, Governor Gary Herbert unveiled his “Utah Leads Together 2.0” plan to begin the transition to a “new normal” in Utah. 

“We know this is a very challenging time,” said Herbert. “We believe this is a dynamic program so we can begin to move forward and help us to get where we want to get to, which is the phased in recovery and reactivation of our economy.”

The plan, which is very similar to the Legislature’s new advisory commission, is moving quickly from the emergency stage of the pandemic to a “recovery” phase. 

“The good news here is our plan is working. We’re not scrambling here. I feel very good about where we’re at,” he said.

Herbert believes is feasible for restaurants to allow sit down dining and some gyms to open by May 1, so long as they are able to maintain proper sanitation and social distancing guidelines. He also believes medical facilities may be ready to begin performing elective surgeries at that time.

Herbert also announced he was lifting restrictions on visitors to Utah’s state parks.

While it may appear to some that the legislative commission will duplicate some of that work, Schultz and other GOP legislators said it is time for the legislative branch of government to step up, get people back to work.

“We will be dealing with this virus for six to 24 months,” said Schultz. And the state can’t stay closed that long. People can go back to work and still be safe.

Despite the aggressive timeline driving the new legislative commission, leaders cautioned that any return to a semblance of normalcy would be gradual.

“This is not going be like flicking a switch,” cautioned House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville. “It’s going to be more like turning a dimmer switch. We will be cautious and we will make adjustments to this plan as we move forward, but we feel like we’re ready to start these crucial steps.”