Republicans in the Utah Senate rammed through a resolution to overturn Salt Lake County’s 30-day mask mandate without any public input on Tuesday. It’s not clear if their counterparts in the Utah House will follow suit.
SJR3, authored by Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, was made public Monday evening. After 49 minutes of debate and no public input, it passed on a party-line vote.
House Republicans met in closed caucus Tuesday evening to discuss the resolution and map out the path forward. They emerged from the meeting without a consensus.
Before Tuesday’s hastily called meeting, House Republicans hadn’t spent much time debating whether to terminate the mask order. The 10 members of the caucus from Salt Lake County were asked to take the lead on the issue to help guide their colleagues. House GOP leaders, who all hail from outside Salt Lake County, believe moving ahead without buy-in from that contingent would likely be a mistake.
The swift action by the Senate put the House GOP in a difficult position. A vote to overturn the mask mandate could anger moderate voters who would likely see intervention by lawmakers from outside the county as heavy-handed overreach. Reps. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan, and Judy Weeks Rohner, R-West Valley City, are in swing districts and need those moderate voters in November’s election.
The remaining members of the caucus from Salt Lake County are in heavily Republican districts. A vote to leave the mandate in place would likely upset Republican base voters and could invite a primary challenge from the political right.
The three GOP Senators from Salt Lake County up for election in November are in heavily Republican districts, so the political risk for them is much smaller.
Additionally, two of the Salt Lake County Council members who voted to keep the mask mandate are Republicans. Overturning their decision could fray relationships within the party.
It would be wrong to mistake any delay as a rift between House and Senate Republicans. Both caucuses disapprove of the mandate, but political reality can be stronger than ideology.
The resolution didn’t make it to a vote by the end of the day Wednesday.