Utah legislature opens 2021 session amid pandemic

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The Utah State Legislature convened for the first time in the new year on Jan. 19. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Utah’s legislative body convened for the start of the 2021 Legislative Session on Jan. 19.

The meeting was one that reflected the newfound changes that many are still navigating in the COVID-19 pandemic. Each legislator was masked and tested before the meeting, ensuring everyone’s safety.

The meeting was different from others in a pre-pandemic world, but still remained familiar to many. Many legislators took their oath of office to begin serving new terms, as well as introducing their own bills onto the floor. These bills dealt with a plethora of issues including tax cuts and COVID-19 relief.

Director Daniel Hemmert of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development thanked the legislators for their attendance before the new members took the oath of office. “During this time of unprecedented civil unrest and discourse, not to mention a worldwide pandemic, thank you. Thank you for your service.”

The Senate stood in silent reflection to remember the Utahns lost to COVID-19 throughout 2020. So far, 1,571 Utah residents have died due to the virus. There have also been over 300,000 cases throughout the state.

Sen. J. Stuart Adams was also nominated to serve as the Senate President and gave an opening day address to acknowledged the challenging year 2020 had been for so many.

“In the upcoming session, I’m committed to reinvigorating our mental health efforts. Throughout the pandemic, mental health needs have increased. We cannot ignore this growing concern. Utah should and will create models the country can use to help address this important issue,” Adams said.

Though the session was held in person, there were notable differences that were seen throughout the meeting. Plexiglass barriers were set up between House members in order to protect them from illness, and handshakes were replaced by other sorts of greetings that require no touch.

Another major change is the Capitol being temporarily closed to the public. The silence of the chambers was a major change between the beginning of other sessions and the beginning of the first. Sen. Curt Bramble has said he hopes to open the Capitol to the public in order for citizens to have their voices heard.

The current legislative session is expected to end March 5.

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