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Utah lawmakers may change rules to allow meeting remotely

New coronavirus ‘highlighted issue,’ sponsor of last-minute bill says

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The Capitol in Salt Lake City is pictured on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A last-minute bill is being drafted to allow lawmakers to meet without being in the same place, the latest response by the Utah Legislature to the new coronavirus outbreak.

Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, requested permission from the full Senate to have a resolution drafted changing legislative rules about meeting, so they can can be considered before the 45-day session ends on Thursday.

COVID-19 has already resulted in House members declaring handshakes off-limits and the Senate no longer allowing notes to be passed to the floor from lobbyists and others, instead encouraging them to communicate with senators via text or email.

“It has highlighted the issue,” Hemmert said. He said the changes he’s seeking in legislative rules would let lawmakers meet remotely without physically gathering together only for special sessions of the Legislature at this point.

Although the session ends Thursday, there has been talk a special session could be needed if the economic impact of the virus worsens.