Utah Lawmakers Gather For 6th Special Session Of 2020

Aug 20, 2020, 12:43 PM | Updated: 8:09 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Lawmakers gathered for their sixth special legislative session this year and approved changes to Utah’s November election, eliminated the income tax on certain CARES Act funding and allowed schools to forgo emergency drills during the pandemic.

Legislators had nearly two dozen items up for debate during Thursday’s session. Most had to do with the state’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, like allocating millions of dollars in federal relief funds and dealing with new situations caused by the pandemic.

For example, House Bill 6001, or the Uniform Electronic Wills Act, allows for wills to be electronically signed. H.B. 6004, titled School Emergency Drills Amendments, gives schools the option to provide fire evacuation instruction rather than perform fire drills that could cause crowded hallways. Both bills passed on Thursday.

Lawmakers unanimously made changes to the November election with S.B. 6007, which calls for some in-person voting along with Utah’s vote-by-mail system. It’s a change from the June primary that was a strictly mail-in election.

“In-person voting will be required but they will dictate the manner best for their county,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville. “It allows the county to determine the best method for in-person voting that works for them, which will be different from Salt Lake County versus Garfield County.”

Options could include outdoor voting, drive-through or walk-up voting locations. Another part of the bill dealt with adding penalties for ballot harvesting.

“That is going door-to-door or going into an institution or trying gather ballots and then mailing those in for somebody else,” said Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton. “We made clear that that is illegal.”

When it comes to the national debate over the security of mail-in voting, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said Utah has the right system in place.

“We’ve had vote-by-mail for a long, long time,” said Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City. “It is successful.”

“It’s the model for what the country should have,” Harper said.

The legislature also unanimously passed S.B. 6005, titled Income Tax Amendments. The bill prohibits state income tax on Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans and CARES Act funding.

“Eliminating income taxes on money individuals and businesses received from the CARES Act or PPP loans will help Utahns overcome current challenges and move forward on a path of recovery and success,” Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, said in a prepared statement.

As with most events during the pandemic, it was not a typical scene inside the Utah State Capitol since the building is closed to the public. Lawmakers were able to attend the session online or in person.

House Speaker Brad Wilson said that a sixth special session was required because of the extraordinary circumstances but that having lawmakers meet so frequently should not become the norm.

“We must not allow COVID-19 and this pandemic to trigger a transition from a part-time legislative body to a full-time legislative body,” Wilson said. “It is simply not in the best interest of our state.”

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Utah Lawmakers Gather For 6th Special Session Of 2020