When the Utah Legislature voted unanimously to extend Gov. Spencer Cox's emergency order on flooding for 90 days Wednesday, it included a provision that requires the governor to check in with legislative leaders every 30 days about the status of the emergency and any money spent.

A handful of representatives wanted to go further in limiting the emergency declaration, and Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, proposed extending it for only 30 days and reconvening for another special session in June if necessary to extend it again. That amendment failed, but some lawmakers still appeared wary about the governor's emergency powers.

When asked about his relationship with the Legislature during his monthly news conference Thursday, Cox said there's no tension between the two branches of government, and they have an "incredible" relationship.

“I don't think we've ever had a better relationship with the Legislature writ large,” he said. “Giving us the longer extension that was needed, I think speaks to the trust that the Legislature does have with the executive branch.”

Related
Here’s what Utah lawmakers did to deal with flooding from winter’s record snowfall

Cox said he was planning to update the Legislature every 15 days throughout the duration of the emergency, and said lawmakers had spoken with him prior to passing the 30-day reporting requirement.

“So, 30 is fine with us,” he said. “It’s really important that we communicate with each other, and we've tried to do a better job of that, certainly, over the past couple of years.”

He also noted the overwhelming support for HJR101, which extends the state of emergency through Aug. 15, saying efforts to limit the emergency to 30 days are out of step with the majority.

“I don’t think one or two lawmakers should be taken as any sort of sign of anything,” Cox said. “I think you’ll notice that despite a couple amendments that failed miserably, the actual extension was passed unanimously. That says more about one or two lawmakers than it does about any relationship that we have.”

Although Lyman's amendment failed, the 30-day reporting requirement is the latest attempt by the Legislature to flex its muscle over powers traditionally exercised by the governor — even if Cox planned on following the stipulation voluntarily.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Legislature gave itself the authority to extend, modify or repeal emergency declarations. Now, emergency orders from the governor expire automatically after 30 days, unless lawmakers agree to extend them.

Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, told the Deseret News after Wednesday's special legislative session that there could be further action by lawmakers this summer to deal with flooding.

“We don't know. No one really knows the extent of the damage that may come. So we may be in special session in June, appropriating more money and we may not be. But in August, we may need more supplemental money. Or we may not,” Adams said.

Related
Here are the actions Utah lawmakers may take to deal with coming floods

Up to $40 million was authorized for snow removal, flooding, mudslides and repairing other damage done by last winter's record snowfall, money that in some cases will need further approval from the Legislature Executive Appropriations Committee before it can be spent.

Adams said the requirement that Cox update himself and House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, is sufficient for lawmakers to monitor the funds that will be spent through the emergency order.

“There were enough restrictions, we felt, in the legislation to give the governor's office proper direction,” the Senate leader said. “Wherever he spends the money, he reports on. I think we have confidence that it will be done right.”

Cox noted that the Legislature controls state spending, and said he feels a “huge responsibility” when exercising those emergency powers “that have been delegated to the executive branch.”

“It should be very rare, and it should only be used in true emergencies. This is a true emergency, as anyone that lives among our waterways will tell you,” Cox said.

The governor signed the three bills passed during the special session, including HB1001, which set aside the funding to deal with winter’s aftermath. Because lawmakers used a joint resolution to extend Cox’s emergency order, it did not need his signature to take effect.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche