Utah’s legislative session — typically characterized by a state Capitol packed with reporters, lobbyists, school groups and other members of the public — will look different this year as the coronavirus pandemic wears on.
Formal public events, rallies and crowded committee hearings will be a thing of the past. In their place, legislative leaders have planned a “blended” session that will rely heavily on virtual engagement but that will — eventually — allow for in-person participation if members of the public follow certain health guidelines.
The state Capitol is currently closed to the public for the beginning days of the session amid concerns about violence surrounding the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. Officials plan to regularly reassess the timeline for reopening to the public.
Here’s a list of all the things you need to know about the upcoming session, from tracking bills to providing public comment:
When will the Legislature meet and for how long?
Utah’s part-time lawmakers will convene their 45-day legislative session on Tuesday, Jan. 18 and adjourn on Friday, March 5. Lawmakers have the option of participating virtually or in person and will be required to test negative for COVID-19 twice a week to gain access to the floor.
How can I provide public comment on a bill?
Once the Capitol opens, a limited number of people will be able to attend in-person committee hearings, which will be held in new, larger rooms to accommodate social distancing.
There will also be opportunities to provide public comment virtually through Zoom. The easiest way to do this is to navigate to the committee hearing you want to listen to from the calendar on the Legislature’s home page (le.utah.gov) and click on the link for “virtual meeting access.”
Your first name, last name and email address will be required to gain access.
Once you’re in, each attendee’s camera and microphone will be muted. When you want to provide public comment, virtually “raise your hand” and, once you’re called on, your microphone will be unmuted and you can provide your comment.
Members of the public can provide spontaneous public comment or sign up in advance to indicate their desire to speak.
If you’d rather not speak in a public meeting or don’t have internet access but still want to give input on a bill, you can also send an email or place a phone call to the lawmaker who represents you in the House or Senate. You can enter your address at le.utah.gov/GIS/findDistrict.jsp if you’re not sure who those elected officials are and then click on their names to find their email address and phone number, both of which are publicly available online.
The Tribune also is publishing a roster, with legislators in the House and Senate listed alphabetically, that includes phone numbers and email addresses.
How can I tune in?
If you want to tune in to a committee hearing but not provide public comment, you can navigate to the meeting you want to listen to from the calendar on the Legislature’s home page (le.utah.gov) and click on the link for “live audio.”
For floor time, when the Senate and House separately convene all their members together in one place, you can see video, a voting board and a list of upcoming bills to be voted on at le.utah.gov/FloorCalendars.
How do I track bills?
The Utah Legislature has a tracking service on its website at le.utah.gov/tracking/tracking.jsp. You can choose to get emails when individual bills are updated and can also track specific legislative committees to get notified about hearing agendas.
What health guidelines do I have to follow?
Members of the public attending in person will be required to social distance and to wear a face covering. The Legislature will have “mask ambassadors” to help ensure members of the public follow the rules and anyone who refuses to will be asked to leave.