Legislation Proposes to Properly Balance Emergency Powers

February 18, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY – With the onset of COVID-19, Utahns watched the Emergency Management Act in effect for an extended period for the first time in our state’s history. It became clear the Emergency Management Act is not structured for long-term emergencies such as a pandemic. After listening to Utahns’ concerns, the Senate and the House of Representatives began working with the governor’s office to create checks on broad executive emergency powers.

S.B. 195 Emergency Response Amendments, limits extensive executive emergency powers during long-term emergencies without hindering rapid response. It does not disrupt the executive branch’s or health department’s ability to respond to short-term emergencies, such as natural disasters.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been new territory for all of us, and over the last 11 months, we realized the need for adjustments,” said Sen. Evan Vickers, Senate sponsor. “Utahns voiced concerns and lawmakers looked for ways to improve the process to ensure democracy is upheld, even in times of crisis. We have an opportunity and duty to take the lessons learned and prepare for future prolonged pandemics, whether it is in a year or 30 years.”

In an extended emergency, S.B. 195 would allow opportunities for the public to provide input, ensure fines are not overburdensome and address concerns with executive powers and state and local health departments.

“The past year has been unlike any before and each branch of government did their best to address many unforeseen challenges,” said Rep. Val Peterson. “Moving forward, we must ensure that our actions maintain the appropriate separation of powers during both long-term and short-term emergencies.”

In Utah, preparation is part of our foundation and heritage. Together, as a state, we are finding ways to protect Utahns’ rights during prolonged emergencies while still promptly addressing and providing for state needs.

“The pandemic showed that modifications were needed in order to adequately face our next extended emergency,” said Sen. Luz Escamilla. “During a state of emergency, decisiveness is critical, and suspending some rules and laws may be needed. However, when an emergency extends past a specific time frame, it can no longer be classified as an emergency but instead should be considered a prolonged circumstance.”

The proposed changes to emergency powers are not a condemnation of any agency, individual or action. The Senate and House of Representatives, along with the governor’s office, have been involved and support the bill concepts, which will continue to be refined as the bill goes through the legislative process.

Read S.B. 195 Emergency Response Amendments here.

Read the summary here.


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