It’s easy to misunderstand what a proposed bill intends to do. After all, legislation can be complicated to read and digest. The furor surrounding HB16, Emergency Response Amendments, is a different beast entirely.
The bill allows Utah firefighters to collect workers’ compensation if they are injured while fighting wildfires in other states. Some Utahns are worried the bill authorizes troops to be called out to lock up residents or impose martial law.
“I’ve been up here for 10 years and this is one of the most bizarre responses to a bill I’ve seen,” Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, said. “There is not enough tin foil on Capitol Hill to wrap up this conspiracy.”
McKell, and other lawmakers, have been flooded with emails, text messages and phone calls urging them to vote against the bill.
The panic about the bill revolves around a section that references “emergency response teams” that would be authorized to conduct urban searches in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security. The legislation says “urban search and rescue.”
Somehow, that section leads people to believe that local health departments, school boards, or any number of entities will have access to militarized emergency response teams that will then be used to round up unvaccinated Utahns and put them in camps to be forcibly vaccinated against COVID-19.
There have also been suggestions that residents could be arrested for speaking out against critical race theory, vaccination passports or questioning the integrity of elections.
McKell shared several emails with The Tribune that accused lawmakers of being ignorant or willfully complicit with a plan to enslave Utah.
“Urban search and rescue being organized by DHS SOUNDS LIKE A MILITARY OPERATION. Against us? Against who? Are you planning to wage war against us?” reads one email.
“While I think you meant well, the H.B. 16 Emergency Response Amendments were very broadly worded and are a doorway for misuse. An example of misuse (at least in my opinion) would be troops being called out to search for unvaccinated people in the name of some sort of public health emergency,” reads another.
The furor surrounding the bill was such that lawmakers were forced to address those concerns during Monday’s Senate Business and Labor Committee meeting, albeit in a tongue-in-cheek way.
“Is your bill a ruse to allow the government to create an imaginary emergency so that law enforcement can engage in unlawful searches and seizures, force vaccinations on people, put them in internment camps, separate families and confiscate property?” Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, asked.
“No,” responded Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, the bill’s sponsor.
“Does this bill serve any other purpose other than encouraging tyranny and abuses of power while demanding the complete subjugation of those underneath it?” Weiler continued.
That also brought a “no” response from Dunnigan.
“Has the United Nations been involved in helping to draft this bill in any way?” Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, asked later in the hearing.
“The answer is no. I have had no communication with the U.N.,” Dunnigan replied.
Where is this coming from?
The libertarian “Defending Utah” group, which has trafficked in all sorts of conspiracy theories for several years, produced a video that detailed many of the unfounded worries about HB16. The video and a follow-up were posted under a headline that breathlessly asked, “Did the House Just Vote to Send Troops to Your Neighborhood.”
If it’s any solace, lawmakers have, so far, been immune to the conspiracy onslaught. HB16 passed unanimously in the Utah House last week and earned a unanimous vote in Tuesday’s hearing.
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.