Legislature calls special session for Thursday to address COVID-19 needs and much more

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Speaker Brad Wilson conducts business in a special session in House Chambers, in front of video monitors and a near empty room on April 16, 2020

Leaders of the Utah Legislature called Monday for a special session on Thursday to consider such things as more COVID-19 relief, issues relating to reopening schools during the pandemic, and tweaking how to hold the Nov. 3 general election.

Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson said the Legislature will convene Thursday at 10 a.m. for the fourth special session this year.

Their proclamation includes possible consideration of 22 items, and not all of them relate to COVID-19.

For example, it includes addressing the “inadequacy of federal payments in lieu of taxes.” That appears to relate to a potential deal with Geomancer, a company of former GOP Rep. Ken Ivory, which is trying to get an expanded state contract to estimate the value of public lands.

Another item proposes to change when cities can annex land without an annexation petition, apparently related to a fight over a controversial proposed annexation by the town of Hideout.

And perhaps even more important is an issue that leaders left out of the proclamation: a request for $20 million to bail out the developers of a port in Oakland, Calif., that Utah lawmakers have long hoped would help ship Utah coal abroad.

“The Legislature is dedicated to preserving and strengthening the physical and financial health of all Utahns,” Adams said. “Utah is taking calculated steps to continue its trajectory toward economic recovery while protecting individuals’ well-being.”

Wilson said the special session will focus on adjustment to the state budget and policies related to the pandemic.

“Our focus is primarily on adapting to ever-changing circumstances in order to help businesses, families and people across our state as we lead the national response and recovery,” he said.

Among some of the issues specifically related to the pandemic are dropping any state income tax on federal aid received by Utah businesses and individuals; addressing issues “related to public education funding and enrollment”; and tweaks “for the 2020 regular general election in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The election changes aim to “modify” a practice attacked by national Republicans called “ballot harvesting,” or allowing a third party — such as a political party, candidates or unions — to collect and deliver multiple by-mail ballots.

The Legislature is temporarily holding interim committee meetings and special sessions electronically due to COVID-19 health concerns. Utahns are encouraged to participate by submitting inquiries and feedback directly to their legislators or by remotely participating in committee meetings.

Floor proceedings will be streamed on the legislative website and televised on KUEN channel 9.2 and Comcast 388 (Senate), and KUEN 9.3 Comcast 387 (House).

The Legislature is using a fairly new ability to call itself into session during emergencies. Voters in 2018 approved an amendment to the Utah Constitution to allow that. Before then, only governors could call a special session. Critics have worried the power could be used to consider issues not related to emergencies.