Gov. Herbert signs bill requiring him to consult with legislative leaders during emergencies

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, and Senate workers conduct business during the Utah Legislature first-ever digital special session at the Capitol, April 16, 2020.

Gov. Gary Herbert on Monday endorsed one final bill from the Legislature’s recent coronavirus-related special session — a proposal that requires him to consult with House and Senate leaders before taking emergency action.

The mandate means Herbert must now give a heads-up to legislators at least 24 hours ahead of an emergency declaration or order. In addition, HB3005 states that lawmakers can “at any time” terminate one of the governor’s orders or executive actions.

Herbert’s spokeswoman said the governor’s office negotiated the bill with state lawmakers “to ensure that the governor will be empowered to act without delay under circumstances that necessitate immediate action.”

The original version would’ve required the governor to consult with state lawmakers at least 48 hours ahead of issuing an emergency decision.

“Even though the bill did not take effect until today, when the governor signed it, our office has been providing the Legislature with the 24-hour notice required by the bill since it passed,” spokeswoman Anna Lehnardt said in a statement. “And even before this bill was considered and passed, the governor has worked in good faith to provide legislative leadership notice regarding executive actions.”

The Alliance for a Better Utah, a progressive advocacy group, has criticized the bill as a "blatant power grab,” and some state lawmakers also objected to the legislation as a blurring of lines between governmental branches. However, the bill’s sponsor, House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, argued the governor should be keeping lawmakers in the loop as he declares emergencies or issues executive orders in response to a crisis.

“I would say that the 24 hours now is something that’s appropriate, it’s something we can readjust if we feel the need moving forward,” Gibson, R-Mapleton, said during floor debate on the bill.

He said in several recent cases, legislative leaders learned only minutes ahead of time that Herbert was about to take emergency action to deal with the coronavirus.

The bill does allow the governor to make emergency decisions without notifying legislative leaders if necessary to prevent “imminent loss of life.”