Utah lawmakers convened in their fifth special session on Thursday, with some House and Senate members inside the Capitol, while others streamed live from their homes.
Most legislators kept six feet of distance — but not all — and most, but not all wore masks.
A bill trimming the state budget, in the face of coronavirus economic turmoil, had not been published Thursday afternoon, but lawmakers signaled it would cut spending in the 1.5% range from what had been approved just several months ago for the new fiscal year that starts on July 1.
“There’s still a lot of confusion on what we’ve done with budgeting,” said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, co-chair of the Executive Appropriations Committee. “Basically, we went back. Anything that took place in the last session went away, not totally, but most of it.”
Amid the cuts, Stevenson said education spending will go up slightly from current levels, maybe 2.2%. He and House Speaker Brad Wilson indicated social services would also be a priority, with Wilson saying Utah’s most vulnerable will be “well taken care of.”
Meantime, scant opposition surfaced to a bill stemming directly from the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. The actions of officers there, widely condemned across the country and here in Utah, touched off weeks of peaceful protests, but also violence and destruction in Salt Lake and other large cities.
“This method of kneeling on the neck should not be used,” said Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, and Utah’s only African American legislator.
Under her bill, if a police officer does that, it would be a third-degree felony — second-degree if it leads to serious injury — and first-degree if the person dies.
A few in the House opposed the measure.
“I hope we are not knee-jerk reacting to this bill,“ said Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Sanpete County.
“I do think there’s a problem creating a felony for a single act,“ said Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Utah County.
But supporters, Republicans and Democrats, vastly outnumbered detractors.
“We are all equal under the law, and equal under heaven,“ said Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Tooele County, in arguing for passage.
Because it passed overwhelmingly, the measure would take effect after it is signed by the governor. While the governor’s office has not committed to his signature, Governor Gary Herbert seemed to express support for the bill last week.