Governor signs bill relaxing qualifications for the state’s health department leader

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed 19 bills from August’s special session into law on Monday, including a measure to relax the qualifications necessary to serve as the state’s health director.

SB6006, sponsored by Sen. Allen Christensen, allows the executive director of the Utah Department of Health to be a nonphysician if he or she has only five years of experience in the public health field and three of those in a leadership position.

That clears the path for the governor to install a new leader at the Utah Department of Health: Richard Saunders, who took over the department earlier this month on an interim basis but did not meet the old requirements for the position.

Previously, Utah law mandated that the health director have at least seven years of professional experience in public health, with at least five of those in a senior-level administrative position, if he or she is not a physician.

Several lawmakers raised concern during floor debate about diminishing the standards for the post — especially during a pandemic — for a specific candidate, a move they said did not constitute good public policy. Others argued that the move was appropriate, since the Health Department director needs more management and administrative skills than medical expertise.

Among the other bills Herbert signed into law on Monday was a measure allowing counties more flexibility as they prepare to hold a general election during the pandemic. County clerks can now offer outdoor and in-person voting as well as drive-thru options, plus drop box and mail-in balloting for the Nov. 3 election.

Amid concerns about mail slowdowns as a result of national U.S. Postal Service changes, SB6007 also requires counties that have a higher risk of ballots being postmarked late to work with their local post office to date stamp those ballots as they come in and to place additional drop boxes.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Lannie Chapman, chief deputy clerk, prepares primary election ballots for counting at the Salt Lake County Government Center, July 1, 2020.

Not all of the bills signed into law on Monday relate to the state’s pandemic response. Herbert also gave his ink of approval to HB6007, which rescinded a provision of a previous bill that opened the door for the town of Hideout to annex a large portion of land without Summit County’s consent.

While those opposed to the move see the bill’s passage as a repudiation of Hideout’s tactics, the town is still moving forward with a last-ditch effort to get the land. In spite of the bill, Hideout’s attorneys filed a request with the 4th District Court last week giving the judge notice of the town’s “opportunity to re-initiate the annexation process” before the new law goes into effect.

Another bill of interest signed Monday is SB6008, which extended the timeline for tobacco retailers to move away from Utah grade schools until July 1, 2021, and cleaned up some language on the permits issued to tobacco specialty retailers.

The bill comes as some retailers threatened to sue the state rather than budge from their current locations by the previous Aug. 15 deadline. Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, and the bill’s sponsor, told The Salt Lake Tribune last week that he thinks it will put Utah officials on stronger ground if the shops do end up taking them to court.

The full list of bills Herbert signed Monday is below:

HB6001, Uniform Electronic Wills Act

HB6002, Supplemental Budget Balancing and Coronavirus Relief Appropriations

HB6003, Premium Subsidy Amendments

HB6004, School Emergency Drills Amendments

HB6005, Cosmetology and Associated Professions Amendments

HB6006, Alcohol License and Permit Amendments

HB6007, Municipal Annexation Revisions

HB6011, Pharmaceutical Reporting Amendments

HB6012, Public Education Funding and Enrollment Amendments

HB6013, Corporate Income Net Loss Amendments

SB6001 , Community Reinvestment Agency Modifications

SB6002, Financial Report Date Amendment

SB6003, Law Enforcement Tuition Reimbursement

SB6004, Regulatory Certainty Amendments

SB6005, Income Tax Amendments

SB6006, Department of Health Modifications

SB6007, Amendments to Elections

SB6008, Tobacco Retailer Amendments

SB6009, Cares Act and COVID-19 Assistance and Recovery Amendments