Governor negotiating COVID-19 endgame bill with legislature

Stock image. | Photo by Anton Litvintsev/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would lift COVID-19 heath restrictions in Utah has now become the subject of negotiations between the legislature, the governor’s office and Utah’s Department of Health.

Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox, right, arrives for a COVID-19 briefing at the Utah State Capitol. Jan. 8, 2021, Salt Lake City, Utah | Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News/Associated Press, St. George News

As a hearing was getting under way on Friday for the Pandemic Emergency Powers Amendments, HB 294, Rep. Paul Ray pulled it from consideration. He later told FOX13Now that he and Senate leaders were in talks with Governor Spencer Cox’s office over it.

“It’s kind of an endgame,” said Rep. Ray, R-Clearfield, describing the bill. “These are the numbers we have to hit in order to get rid of restrictions and get rid of the emergency.”

A similar bill, designed to rein in the givernor’s powers during a pandemic, will be heard by a Utah House committee on Monday.

Earlier this week, Gov. Spencer Cox predicted a maskless July 4 as the Utah Department of Health announced criteria for when the mask mandate could be lifted.

The original version of the house bill said health restrictions, including the mask mandate and physical distancing requirements would be abandoned once Utah had 1.7 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine distributed or that many people had recovered from the virus, whichever comes first. A substitute version drafted now says after one million doses, hospitalization rates drop to 20% or less and the average case rate is less than 101 people per 100,000. It also allows local health departments and school districts to keep mask mandates in place in K-12 schools.

Utah Department of Health Executive Director Rich Saunders said the bill was “premature.”

“I think it’s a little aggressive from a public health perspective,” he told FOX 13.

Utah Department of Health Executive Director Rich Saunders speaks during a press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Sept. 22, 2020 | Screenshot from Gov. Gary Herbert Facebook page, St. George News

Saunders said he was involved in talks over the bill and said what Rep. Ray is trying to accomplish is a good thing. But he warned that in addition to allowing the virus to spread further, it might leave the state of Utah on the hook for more than $200 million in costs for coronavirus testing, contact tracing and vaccination efforts.

“What this bill does is it basically says, ‘Everybody jump out of the boat, we can see the shore,'” Saunders said. “But I think we’ve got a couple of miles to go.”

Rep. Ray said he was pleased with the progress the state has made in getting people vaccinated. But he questioned if all existing restrictions needed to be in place while that happens.

St. George News Weekend Editor/reporter Chris Reed contributed to this story.

Read the full story here:

Written by BEN WINSLOW,

For a complete list of contacts for Southern Utah representatives and senators, click here.

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2021 Utah Legislature here.


Copyright 2019, KSTU. A Tribune broadcasting station

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