Will he sign or veto it? Local legislator’s bill to curtail governor’s emergency powers heads to Cox

Stock photo.| Photo by Lobro78/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — By the ease of which it passed both houses of the state legislature, Cedar City State Sen. Evan Vickers’ bill to establish some limits on the governor’s powers in an emergency would seem like a likely signature for Gov. Spencer Cox.

Utah State Sen. Evan Vickers, left, converses on the Senate floor with Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson on March 3, 2021. Salt Lake City, Utah | Photo courtesy of Utah State Legislature, St. George News

On Friday afternoon, the Emergency Response Amendments, designated SB 195, cleared its final legislative hurdle when the Senate approved a final bill with additional amendments from the House in a unanimous 25-0 vote (with four absent or not voting). That followed a 64-4 approval from the House late Thursday and an initial 29-0 approval by the Senate on Feb. 23.

Even with that overriding support, the governor was noncommittal Thursday on whether he would ultimately sign the bill that now heads to his desk. After all, the bill would force a governor to get legislative approval to extend a declared emergency beyond 30 days, including pandemic-related orders.

“We’ll look at it but I will not commit to it now,” Cox said Thursday.

However, Vickers squelched any suspense over whether Cox will give his final approval of the legislation.

“I have assurance from the executive branch that in its current form the governor will sign the bill,” Vickers told St. George News.

There’s reason for Vickers to be confident. He’s been working with the governor’s office on the final form of the bill to make sure it would be one Cox would sign. Especially active in the formation of the bill has been Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, even before she was inaugurated in January.

“Lieutenant Governor Henderson was Senator Henderson when we started the process of looking into this issue and served on our Senate working group who began the review process eight months ago,” Vickers said. “After she became lieutenant governor, she took over the role in the executive branch of negotiating policy with the legislature. She has been very cooperative and instrumental in working with us to find a good path for the bill.”

A masks required sign outside Smith’s Market on Bluff Street in St. George, Utah, seen on Nov. 6, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

In that spirit, Vickers, who had been an opponent of the state’s mask mandate himself, when it was first enacted by then Gov. Gary Herbert last year, voiced to Fox13Now his opposition an attempt by Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, to add an immediate end of the mask mandate as an amendment to SB 195. A loud “no” voice vote stopped that effort in the house despite support from Rep. Rex Shipp, R-Cedar City.

The bill’s creation stems from legislator opposition to some of the orders that have come from the governor’s office during the pandemic. Beyond the mask mandate, that has included orders for distancing in restaurants and other limits on businesses and gatherings during the pandemic.

Vickers told St. George News that ultimately the bill is not moving the balance of power from the executive to the legislative branch in regulations concerning the pandemic. He said it just gives the legislature a voice.

“Nothing in this bill says that the legislature would have overturned anything,” he said, “and in fact, it would create a process where significant expert testimony and public input would be gathered in a committee meeting that would make recommendations back to the whole legislature for action.”

Vickers added that his background in the medical field and being a business owner of Bulloch Drug and Township Pharmacy has been helpful in understanding the balance between health and business needs.

“I recognize from my professional experience the value of the health care industry and their role during a pandemic. I also recognize from my legislative experience the value of keeping an appropriate balance so that citizens can maintain their ability to live their lives safely while still maintaining their personal liberties and rights and abilities to provide for their families.”

Gov. Spencer Cox gestures with his mask, predicting that he would no longer need to wear one on July 4 as he spoke during a press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Feb. 25, 2021 | Screenshot from Gov. Spencer Cox Facebook page, St. George News

One loophole the bill would close, if signed, would be the one that allowed a governor to just reinstate an emergency order even after the state legislature would vote to stop it.

“We learned from COVID that if the legislature convened and passed a joint resolution to terminate the governor’s emergency declaration, nothing would prevent him or her from just reissuing the same order the next day or allowing the state health department to issue the order instead,” Vickers said. “SB 195 would prevent that and leave the determination in the hands of the legislature.”

Whether SB 195 becomes law is now in the hands of the governor.

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 St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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