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Legislative session gets underway without the public; Capitol could reopen by Friday

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Utah lawmakers began the first day of the legislative general session Tuesday marked by a number of firsts, including unprecedented security and the remote participation of some lawmakers. (KUTV)

Utah lawmakers began the first day of the legislative general session Tuesday marked by a number of firsts, including unprecedented security and the remote participation of some lawmakers.

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The State Capitol is closed to the public over concerns of violent protests, and Utah Highway Patrol and Utah National Guard personnel are maintaining a strong show of force around the building. Only those with certain credentials are allowed inside.

But that could change in a few days.

“We could open it up as soon as Friday with access to the public,” said Lt. Nick Street with the Utah Highway Patrol.

The Capitol has been under close watch since last week when Gov. Spencer Cox issued a state of emergency. That emergency order runs through Thursday. Cox spokeswoman Jennifer Napier-Pearce told 2News the governor’s office is relying on the Department of Public Safety in deciding when to reopen the building.

Meanwhile, UHP officers are remaining vigilant as the session proceeds this week and the governor prepares to give his state of the state address Thursday evening. There’s also an added layer of tension with the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday.

I’d be lying if we didn’t think that the threats from January 6th weren’t still heavy on our mind, but they are,” Street said. “We know that there are those that are upset with the democratic election process.”

When the public is allowed back on the Capitol grounds, they will be subject to security measures like bag checks along with COVID-19 restrictions like masks and social distancing.

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Most lawmakers worked in person Tuesday at the Capitol, but a few in both the House and Senate joined remotely.

“It is difficult, especially on the first day just not being there,” said State Sen. Jani Iwamoto (D-Salt Lake City), who stayed home to protect her health and the health of her mother. “It’s a new thing but I really feel grateful that we have the option.”

State Sen. Gene Davis (D-Salt Lake City), who just received his first COVID-19 vaccine dose Monday, also stayed home. He joined his fellow senators remotely, voting right from his home.

“I vote verbally when they call my name,” Davis told 2News via video chat. “I turn my microphone on and say aye or nay, whichever the case may be.”

The Utah Legislature will allow for virtual participation by lawmakers throughout the session. The public can also join committee meetings remotely and offer comments. Virtual meeting instructions are available at https://le.utah.gov.

READ: 2021 Utah legislative session: List of new bills tackle some big issues of 2020

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