Throughout the last year, the Legislature and Utahns watched as the Emergency Management Act, set in place over 65 years ago, went into effect with the onset of COVID-19. What was originally intended to address a crisis for a short period, such as 30, 60 or 90-days, has lasted nearly a year. After listening to Utahns’ concerns from all political affiliations and backgrounds, the Senate began working to create checks on executive emergency powers during long-term emergencies without hindering rapid emergency response.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been new territory for all of us, and over the last 11 months, we have witnessed weaknesses and strengths and realized the need for adjustments. As we listened to the public’s concerns, we have looked for ways to improve the process to ensure our democracy is upheld, even in times of crisis.
During a state of emergency, decisiveness is critical, and suspending some rules and laws may be necessary. However, when an emergency is indefinite it is no longer an emergency but instead should be considered a prolonged circumstance.
For example, in March, when Utah entered the state of emergency due to COVID-19, the usual procurement procedures were rightfully suspended as the state worked around the clock to secure PPE for healthcare workers. This process should and will continue during future emergencies. However, once our immediate needs are met, government purchases should go through the standard procurement procedures.
Utah continues to manage COVID-19 but not in an emergency state of mind. Therefore rules and laws should not be indefinitely suspended for prolonged circumstances without checks and balances in place. When rules and laws are indefinitely suspended, unintentional negative consequences occur.
S.B. 195 strictly addresses long-term emergencies. It does not disrupt the executive branch, Utah Department of Health or local health department’s ability to respond to standard emergencies, such as natural disasters or chemical spills.
The updated process includes creating an opportunity for the public to provide input through the Legislative Emergency Response Committee and ensures fines are not overburdensome. The bill addresses concerns about executive and health department powers at the state and local levels by creating similar checks and balances at the state and local levels, ensuring all groups work with their respective governments.
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 in the process and are supportive of the updates.
Finding balance between all branches of government during an emergency is a lesson we have learned throughout COVID-19. We have found during times of crisis, Utah works together, which is exemplified by our low COVID-19 fatality rate and low unemployment rate.
In Utah, preparation is part of our foundation and heritage. The pandemic showed that adjustments were needed in order to adequately face our next extended emergency. Together, we are finding ways to protect Utahn’s rights during prolonged emergencies while still addressing and providing for state needs.
Read S.B. 195 Emergency Response Amendments here.
Read the bill overview here.
Read the technical bill summary here.