POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Time quickly running out for contentious ‘vaccine passport’ bill

Mar 3, 2022, 7:51 PM | Updated: Mar 4, 2022, 12:00 pm
(Utah State Capitol, March 3, 2022.  Photo: Paul Nelson)...
(Utah State Capitol, March 3, 2022. Photo: Paul Nelson)
(Utah State Capitol, March 3, 2022. Photo: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY — Time is running out for the controversial “vaccine passport” bill. Lawmakers says it has to go through two floor debates, and the bill’s sponsors would only have one day to get it done.

Vaccine passport

Lawmakers have been trying to make many changes to House Bill 60, with seven substitutes being proposed.  The Deseret News reports it would prohibit businesses and government agencies from requiring a “vaccine passport” before letting people enter.

The Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee supported one of those substitute bills with a 7-2 vote. However, the committee meeting became so heated, some spectators were thrown out after committee chair Sen. Dan McCay said they were violating committee rules.

McCay can be heard on the meeting recording ordering one man to leave.  “You’re removed.  Highway Patrol, he’s leaving now.  Now!”

McCay told KSL, “In 11 legislative sessions that I’ve been up here, I’ve never seen anything like it, and I hope never to see it, again.”

(One man being removed from the committee meeting after refusing to cover a political shirt. Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, March 1, 2022)

The bill sent back to ‘rules committee’

By the end of the floor debate on Thursday night, the Senate had not talked about HB 60. Nor did House leadership place it on the Senate reading calendar.  Currently, the bill sits in the Senate Rules Committee, which essentially means it’s in the hopper and ready to be called up to the floor at a moment’s notice.

That doesn’t mean the bill is being placed on the proverbial “back burner,” or that it won’t be brought up for discussion on the final day of the session.  Political analysts say it just means other bills are considered as a higher priority by House leadership.  If the bill were to pass, it has a long journey ahead of it, with very little time.  Since a substitute version was passed in the Senate committee, it has to go through a debate on the Senate floor, then go through another debate in the House.

When sponsor, Rep. Walt Brooks, was asked if he believes the bill would be brought on for floor discussion, he responded, “This is the time where there are a lot of bills competing for very limited time.  I hope it does.”

A spokesman for the Senate sponsor, Sen. Michael Kennedy, sent a statement to KSL saying, “Senator Kennedy believes it will likely be heard before the end of the session, and the legislation is important to protect the privacy and medical freedom of Utahns.”

Lawmakers don’t like focusing too much on one bill during last day

House leadership could decide to make the bill an immediate priority for Senators.  They could put HB 60 in front of other bills that are already on the calendar.  Will that happen?  McCay has his doubts.  Generally, legislators don’t like to spend much time debating one particular bill on the session’s final day.

He said, “Bills that take a lot of time on the last two days… those are hard bills to put on the floor because [lawmakers] know that every minute we’re not dealing with other bills, they’re dying.”

Given how heated the last committee debate became, McCay believes there will be long discussions about the bill if it reaches either floor.

“I think the debate for both the House and the Senate will be robust and will take time.  I think that’s appropriate because getting that policy right is really important,” he said.  “Contentious bills are tough on the last couple of days, but that doesn’t mean they never happen.”

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Time quickly running out for contentious ‘vaccine passport’ bill