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Utah leaders promised to collaborate to keep schools safe from COVID. That plan hasn’t got off the ground.

Legislators quickly turned their attention to fighting the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, and Gov. Spencer Cox at a news conference related to COVID-19 at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022.

In September 2021, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox was worried about the rising number of COVID-19 cases from the delta variant. School-aged children were returning to in-person classes and Cox was mulling an executive order to require students to wear masks in school.

The GOP-controlled Legislature likely would have overturned such a move by the governor in short order, which is why it never got past the early stages.

Instead of a public battle over mask requirements for students, Cox met behind closed doors with lawmakers to brainstorm solutions to keep students, teachers and staffers safe.

”The governor requested the Legislature form a working group to collaborate with the executive branch in addressing these issues. Members of our caucus are committed to working with the administration to find solutions,” House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said in a statement following that meeting.

That promised collaboration never happened.

Staffers for House and Senate Republicans acknowledged the idea never got off the ground. However, they stressed that Wilson and Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, continue to hold regular informal meetings with Cox.

“The President has regular meetings with the governor and speaker, and they continue to monitor the situation. Though, a formal working group with legislators hasn’t been formed,” Aundrea Peterson, Utah Senate deputy chief of staff, said in a text message.

It’s easy to see why the working group proposal was passed aside. Worries about COVID-19 spreading in schools gave way to frustration at the federal government. Just a few days after Cox’s meeting with legislators, President Joe Biden unveiled his plan to require vaccines or testing for businesses with 100 or more employees.

Lawmakers quickly turned their attention to challenging the Biden administration in the courts or taking action to block the requirement through legislative action. Lawmakers held a special committee meeting to gather public input on how to respond to the vaccine order, which resulted in legislation expanding exemptions to vaccine mandates.

The Supreme Court blocked the requirement for private businesses last week.

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