School masks ban among issues to be debated in special session; governor punts other ‘hot button’ issues

ST. GEORGE — Utah lawmakers will meet in a special legislative session to focus on accepting and allocating more than $1.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding and other issues, including a prohibition on certain mask requirements in schools and extending the state of emergency for drought conditions.

In this file photo, Gov. Spencer Cox gives his first State of the State address before the Utah Legislature, Salt Lake City, Utah, Jan. 21, 2021 | Pool photo, St. George News

Absent from the special session’s agenda will be bills related to banning critical race theory and declaring Utah a Second Amendment Sanctuary.

In a letter to state Senate and House leaders, Gov. Spencer Cox – whose office calls the special sessions and sets the agenda – said he felt those “hot button” issues needed “more time, thought, dialogue and input” before being voted on.

Despite two of the more potentially controversial issues being punted from the agenda, the Legislature will still consider a ban on certain face mask requirements for K-12 schools, if not banning them altogether.

The governor has previously stated that Utah won’t mandate masks in schools this fall.

Banning masks requirements could run against continuing federal guidelines for schools set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommend their continued use.

In this 2020 file photo, the Utah Senate floor is viewed during the Utah legislative session in Salt Lake City, Utah, Jan. 27, 2020 | Associated Press photo by Rick Bowmer, file, St. George News

The Legislature is also expected to authorize the acceptance and allocation over $1.5 billion from the American Rescue Plan for continuing pandemic relief-related efforts.

Additionally, the state of emergency for continuing drought conditions will be addressed and possibly extended.

Cox issued the original declaration in March and recently declared another. The declaration allows communities, farms and facilities negatively impacted by the drought to apply for federal disaster funding.

The original order also issued time-of-day outdoor water restrictions for state facilities. Additional declarations may impose other restrictions depending on the continuing severity of the drought.

Other issues to be addressed include amending local building regulations, industrial hemp regulations, eligibility criteria for police officers, provisions related to the sale of electronic cigarette and nicotine products, and a resolution celebrating the history and cultures of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders while also condemning acts of anti-Asian hate.

Additional measures will be focused on updating or fixing errors made in bills that passed the general session earlier this year.

“Hot button” issues saved for another day

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

On the Second Amendment Sanctuary issue, Cox wrote in his letter that, “I want to be clear that I believe Utah is and always has been a Constitutional sanctuary state.”

A number of Utah counties have already declared themselves Second Amendment Sanctuaries. In a similar vein, some some Utah county sheriffs have vowed to uphold the Second Amendment.

As an example of his support of gun rights, Cox pointed to his signing of Rep. Walt Brooks’ HB 60 legislation that recently passed and allows Utah residents to carry concealed firearms without a permit.

As for critical race theory, he wrote, “I am on record saying that CRT has no place in our curriculum.”

Cox has discussed the matter with state Superintendent Sydnee Dickson and Utah School Board of Education chair Mark Huntsman, he wrote, and they have asked the Legislature to delay any actions on the issue “so they have an opportunity to fulfill their constitutional role and work with educators and parents to get it right. I believe they deserve that opportunity and will likely craft a better solution than we could in such a short time.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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