GOVERNMENT

‘Serious constitutional questions:’ Democrats take issue with process that immediately ended mask mandates

Jan 25, 2022, 7:21 PM
Utah 2022 legislative session...
Aerial view of the Utah State Capitol. Photo: Ravell Call, Deseret News, KSL-TV Chopper 5

SALT LAKE CITY — Democrats in the Utah House of Representatives are questioning whether the legislative resolution that overturned mask mandates should have taken effect immediately.

Senate Joint Resolution 3, or SJR3, cleared the Senate last Tuesday and passed in the House on Friday with a vote of 45 to 29. It immediately terminated the countywide mask mandates in Salt Lake and Summit counties. And also, the K-12 mask requirement for students in Salt Lake City.

In a series of tweets, House Democrats said SJR 3 “raises serious constitutional questions.”

Mask mandate resolution

During the debate on Friday, Representative Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, asked why the resolution would take effect immediately when the Utah Constitution requires a two-thirds vote to override the 60-day waiting period after the end of the legislative session for a law to take effect.

“I was hoping for clarification on that before the body goes to a vote,” Dailey-Provost said.

In response, House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said he already checked with legislative lawyers. And was told the 60-day period does not apply.

“That is related to legislation with effective dates, not resolutions like this,” Wilson said.

The tweets from House Democrats detailed how SB 195, which was passed in 2021, put in place the current process that allows the legislature to terminate local health orders immediately with a simple majority vote.

“Carve-outs from the constitution”

“Can the legislature pass a bill to give itself future carve-outs from the constitution?” asked one of the tweets from Utah House Democrats.

“While the House and Senate clearly made known their intentions on Salt Lake and Summit Counties’ mask orders, this move creates a concerning precedent. And we have doubts about whether SJR3 is effective immediately given these constitutional issues,” House Democrats’ concluding tweet said.

In response to Democrat’s tweets, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, pointed out in a tweet that Rep. Dailey-Provost voted to approve SB 195.

A spokesperson for Senate Republican leadership told KSL that it’s a longstanding rule and practice that resolutions go into effect once they are signed by the Senate president and House speaker, which happened on Friday.

House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said that the legislature is in a gray area when it comes to SJR3.

“There is a good argument to be made on both sides: that the failure to get two-thirds in the House means that it isn’t in effect until another 60 days,” King said.

King said the argument on the other side is the resolution is an extension of last year’s SB 195. It did pass with a two-thirds majority.

“The problem that I have is that we’re in a gray area at a time when we should not be,” he said.

No further action planned over mask mandates

House Democrats said they don’t plan to take further action or initiate litigation about their complaint.

“But we do want people in the state of Utah to know that there is a legitimate question about the extent to which that revocation of the mask mandate took effect immediately,” King said.

“They could have proceeded without putting the integrity of the process at risk,” Dailey-Provost said.

Dailey-Provost said she would like to have a longer discussion about the process.

“The importance of calling it out is to make sure that in the future we do a better job of about examining and revering the process that is outlined in our constitution. So this doesn’t become a question again,” she said.

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‘Serious constitutional questions:’ Democrats take issue with process that immediately ended mask mandates