Lawmakers gave themselves the power to override local governments last year.
While it looks like the Republican supermajority in Salt Lake County Council may not have enough votes to quash the 30-day mask mandate released on Friday, that may not be the case with the Utah legislature.
Lawmakers return to the Hill next week, and there could be a step to override the county’s mask mandate, especially if the council does not take the step itself.
Last year, lawmakers passed SB195 to restrict the governor’s emergency powers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, giving them the ability to override any emergency orders with a majority vote from both houses. That’s why Governor Spencer Cox didn’t order masks from Utah schools last fall – he was almost certain lawmakers would overturn that decision in no time.
The so-called “end of pandemic” bill, also approved last year, allowed local health departments to require face coverings, but the county council or commission could overturn the decision. It happened last August when the Salt Lake County Council voted 6-3 to stop a mask mandate for K-6 students.
But don’t think Salt Lake County Council has the final say.
SB195 contains a clause giving the Utah legislature the power to override a public health order through a joint resolution. Joint resolutions only need a majority vote in both houses of the Legislative Assembly. Resolutions do not require a governor’s signature, which means Cox cannot veto them.
Shortly after the mask order was announced on Friday, House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and Senate Speaker Stuart Adams, R-Layton issued a ominous joint statement.
“The legislature described a process in SB 195 with multiple checks and balances. While we believe government warrants should be a last resort, we will review recently issued orders, ”the statement said.
It may seem difficult to give lawmakers outside of Salt Lake County a say in how the county conducts its business. But that’s hardly a deterrent on Capitol Hill. For many lawmakers, counties and cities are viewed as political subdivisions of the state, over which the legislature takes precedence in Utah.
Timing could also play an important role. With the 2022 session scheduled to begin next week, an effort to overturn the Salt Lake County Mask Order would be fairly straightforward and would not require a special session.