SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Jan. 18, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — On the first day of the 2022 Utah Legislature, lawmakers have introduced a bill to limit the power of local health departments and chief executive officers such as mayors to “exercise emergency powers in response to a pandemic, an epidemic, or a public emergency.”
House Bill 182, sponsored by Rep. Ryan D. Wilcox and Sen. Kirk A. Cullimore, is also written to enact a provision “indicating that the Disaster Response and Recovery Act preempts and supersedes any law of a political subdivision of the state pertaining to disaster and emergency response.”
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, who supported Salt Lake County when the Health Department and Mayor Jenny Wilson enacted the indoor mask mandate, was quick to share her response.
“We are not surprised by H.B. 182 but urge the Legislature to promote good policy over politics when it comes to our residents’ health,” Mendenhall wrote on her Facebook page.
“This includes empowering local health departments to enact protective measures based on science and their expertise.
“The fact that H.B. 182 exempts state facilities from a science-based health order is exactly that type of reactive legislation that is so disappointing and a response to a toxic political climate.
“We are also not surprised the Legislature is attempting to usurp local mayors’ emergency authority related to pandemics, and know this is a direct statement on our emergency COVID-19 declaration and mask order for Salt Lake City’s K-12 schools.
“Rather than stripping local authority, we request the Legislature acknowledge that municipal mayors have direct expertise related to any kind of emergency in their local communities, and those mayors’ authority should not be usurped for political retribution.”
Click here to read the full text of H.B. 182.
Mendenhall on Friday, Jan. 7, voiced her support for a mask mandate in light of increasing COVID-19 infection numbers. Later that same day, Salt Lake County Department of Health executive director Dr. Angela Dunn issued an indoor mask mandate with the support of Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson.
While the Salt Lake County Council voted to let the order stand, state legislative leaders indicated they would consider overturning the local health order once the legislature convened.
Gov. Spencer Cox joined legislators in undermining the effectiveness of the emergency health measure, saying such orders did not apply to state buildings, their employees or their visitors.