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‘Out of an abundance of caution:’ public legislative access goes virtual

The Utah State Capitol. (Derek Petersen/KSL-TV)

SALT LAKE CITY– As Utah lawmakers make their way to the Utah Capitol to kick off the 2021 legislative session, the public won’t be allowed to. Instead, the Utah Legislature announced Wednesday the public will temporarily participate in legislative proceedings virtually for safety reasons. 

“Out of an abundance of caution”

The decision came “out of an abundance of caution” after the Utah Highway Patrol raised concerns about planned protests at the Utah Capitol after President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, the Legislature said in a statement. 

“Our primary concerns are for the safety of those who would be in the Capitol under ordinary circumstances and for the Legislature to be able to conduct the business of the people without interruption,” said Speaker of the House Brad Wilson. 

On the day Congress approved of the electoral vote count in favor of Biden, crowds of people gathered at Utah’s Capitol to participate in a “Stop the Steal” rally. While protesters at the Capitol were mostly peaceful, that wasn’t the case at the US Capitol in Washington

Legislative participation and the public

Utah Senate President Stuart Adams encouraged residents to raise comments and concerns through a remote, yet public, legislative forum. 

“Though this session will be unconventional, we recognize the value of public input and have worked to fine-tune a process that enables remote public comment,” said Adams. “We encourage all Utahns to utilize this new process throughout the session.”

In an effort to increase public participation, the Legislature has enabled Utahns the opportunity to watch legislative sessions live and provide input during a live committee meeting as if they were in a committee room.  

“It is unfortunate we have to take this step, but we have the procedures and technologies in place to allow us to adjust and move forward,” said Wilson. “We will work closely with the Utah Highway Patrol as we evaluate conditions and determine when in-person options can resume.”

Despite the anticipated demonstrations, the 45-day legislative session will begin Jan. 19 as scheduled.  

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