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Utah special session tackles COVID-19, taxes, education, and elections

(PHOTO: KSL Newsradio's Kelli Pierce)

SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers passed 21 bills during a special session at the Utah State Capitol aimed at helping the state and regular Utahns get through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Special session in Utah addresses COVID-19 concerns

Utah lawmakers used $138 million in federal money to pump up the state’s unemployment funds during the special session, meaning Utahns who are unemployed because of COVID-19 will get an additional $300 a week. 

Utahns and Utah businesses who received CARES Act or Paycheck Protection Program funds will no longer have to pay state income taxes on that money.

The legislature also distributed $122 million in federal CARES Act money, including $40 million to farmers, the arts, tourism, small business rent relief, and mining. 

The state’s public health lab is getting $15 million to improve COVID-19 testing and turnaround times. 

Money for education also addressed

Public education was also a big focus during the special session. 

Lawmakers set aside about $19 million for schools, with almost $4 million of that amount earmarked so districts can buy more personal protective equipment. 

Schools can also choose not to do large-scale drills, like fire drills, until February over COVID-19 concerns.  

Lawmakers lifted the enrollment cap at some state-run charter schools, while giving them millions to help set up their online learning infrastructure due to high demand. Some Democrats opposed the spending over fears it would take money away from public schools; Republicans insist it is a one-time payment. 

Elections and COVID-19

Lawmakers addressed concerns about Utah’s mail-in elections ahead of the general election in November. 

Ballots must be postmarked before Election Day. Some lawmakers worried that puts too much of a burden on rural voters. 

However, Rep. Stephen Handy (R-Layton) countered that there will be same day in-person voting options. He also pointed out there will be a public awareness campaign to let voters know about the rules.