Utah Gov. Gary Herbert calls lawmakers into special session to address budget cuts, coronavirus impacts

(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. On Thursday, lawmakers confronted a range of issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued a proclamation Tuesday calling the Utah Legislature into a special session later this week to address ongoing impacts related to the coronavirus.

At the top of the to-do list is addressing the impact of declining state revenue on state budgets as the economy reels from the pandemic. New revenue projections released Tuesday show the state is facing deficits of $93 million in one-time funding and $757 million in ongoing funding for the current and coming budget years.

But while lawmakers are poised to make potentially deep slashes to state spending, Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said last week that legislative leaders are drafting a plan to hold education and social services as “harmless as possible” with the help of $900 million from the state’s working rainy day fund.

"While the deficit is a result of the economic downturn we’re experiencing due to the health crisis, the budget actions the Legislature will consider during the special session will put Utah in a position to accelerate recovery and quickly return to more prosperous times,” Herbert, Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson said in a prepared statement.

The governor’s proclamation includes a host of other items that will be up for consideration. Lawmakers are being asked to look at modifying unemployment insurance rules, changing data privacy provisions related to the state’s response to COVID-19, and providing rent and mortgage assistance to individuals and small businesses affected by the virus.

They are also expected to extend the COVID-19 state of emergency and address testing for the virus among staff and residents of residential care facilities.

Lawmakers have already approved a slate of bills related to the pandemic in a virtual special session held in April. They signed off an almost entirely by-mail primary election, created a commission to advise the governor on reopening the economy and passed right-to-try legislation that will give physicians greater protections when prescribing off-label or experimental medications during a public health emergency.

Several of the items up for consideration in this special session have nothing to do with the pandemic, such as changing private investigator residency requirements, modifying alcohol policies at the Salt Lake City International Airport and changing provisions related to the unveiling of the statue of Martha Hughes Cannon in the United States Capitol.

Also on the list is addressing “certain methods of restraint by peace officers” in the wake of large protests against police brutality both locally and nationally in recent weeks. Herbert announced last week that the Utah Highway Patrol and state corrections officers would no longer be allowed to use chokeholds on people in custody.

While lawmakers joined the last special session virtually — save for the House speaker and Senate president, who ran the show from their respective chambers — legislators will be allowed to come into the Capitol if they’d like, though they will be subject to social distancing requirements and mask rules. The building remains closed to the general public.

The Legislature will convene at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. The public can watch a livestream of the proceedings at le.utah.gov. They can also tune in to House and Senate proceedings on KUEN channels 9.2 and 9.3 or Comcast channels 387 and 388.