Special Session Recap

davidwicaiBlog, COVID19, Legislature

Legislators considered nearly two dozen bills during the first two days of their special session on Thursday and Friday. Nearly all of the bills related to issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the bills passed, the most important one for our department actually had no practical impact because it was simply a resolution. But House Joint Resolution 301, in both the bill’s language and particularly in comments made by sponsor Rep. Jefferson Moss, R-Saratoga Springs.

“The budget we came out with in March is not going to be the budget we end up with,” Moss said. “We know it will be smaller, but we don’t know how much, so we’re sending a message to be prepared for lower revenues.”

Moss said the resolution tells state agencies and other government entitities to “tighten their belts” by taking the following steps:

  • Restrict current year expenditures to only necessary costs.
  • Only make commitments or expenditures that are within the previous year’s budget.
  • Plan on a FY21 budget — which begins July 1 — that is equal to or possibly less than their FY20 budget.

Moss acknowledged that while resolutions don’t have teeth, the purpose is to “set expectations and, basically, plan on having last year’s budget.”

Speaking in practical terms for the department, this means that no plans should be made for new funding passed during this year’s session. That new funding includes additional funding for cultural grants and the creation of a cultural stewardship program in State History. It could also impact funding for the museum project, although it’s unclear how legislators plan to handle the funding for buildings.

Other bills passed during the session related to COVID-19 made changes to the election laws to allow for voting by mail during the upcoming primaries, extended state tax deadlines, waived attendance and testing requirements for schools, and other waivers or extensions needed because of unforeseen delays caused by the virus.

Legislators also approved an extension to the state of emergency for the 5.7 magnitude earthquake in March. That is needed for federal funding applications, especially as aftershocks continue to shake the Salt Lake valley.

Legislators will meet again next Thursday as part of this 10-day special session. They are expecting to convene multiple special sessions in the coming months.