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Herbert defends states’ rights, but says cooperation necessary on all levels

Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during the daily COVID-19 media briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 14, 2020, where state officials announced that Utah’s K-12 public schools will remain closed for in-person learning for the remainder of the academic year.
Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during the daily COVID-19 media briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 14, 2020, where state officials announced that Utah’s K-12 public schools will remain closed for in-person learning for the remainder of the academic year.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Tuesday it is right for states to form a regional coalition to look at ways of reopening the economy, but it needs to be done in coordination and collaboration with the federal government to ensure the coronavirus pandemic is under control.

“These regions are trying to work together to create a plan to open up the economy. I understand the desire to have a plan, because we already have a plan, and it is the most comprehensive in the country.”

In a daily briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic, Hebert acknowledged the power plays between the states and the federal government when it comes to deciding who pulls the trigger when, and how hard, when it comes to allowing the United States to get back to business.

States on both the East Coast and the West Coast are working together to have a regional plan to open up for business, but President Donald Trump made plain that it should be the federal government’s decision — not something decided at the local level.

On Monday, the governors of Washington, Oregon and California announced their intent to form a Western States Pact to coordinate a joint response to the pandemic and how to reopen economies.

Herbert said a state-specific response is best, but emphasized there needs to be cooperation on all levels.

States that are moving to take action now are creating that tension with the Trump administration.

Trump previously left it up to individual states to determine the extent of closures and public health directives on a case-by-case basis as the new coronavirus began to spread.

The president has taken extreme criticism from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, for not doing enough and providing sufficient aid during the outbreak. Now Cuomo is among those in an East Coast coalition of states pushing to reopen this regional segment of the economy in a classic balance of power struggle that pits states’ rights against the federal government.

“There is some controversy back and forth about what the president can do about mandating to states,” Herbert said. “We work closely with the administration.”

He emphasized that there has to be sensitivity to states’ rights.

“I would certainly uphold that. I am a 10th Amendment guy,” Herbert said, referring to the constitutional provision that reserves rights not explicitly delegated to the federal government to remain in the purview of state authority.

Herbert’s comments came as a new bill was unveiled for the upcoming special legislative session by House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, that looks to establish more legislative authority over the governor in terms of what the governor can and cannot do in times of a pandemic.

The measure, HB3005, requires 48-hour advance notification by the Utah governor and consultation before there is any executive action.

Herbert said he had not seen the bill, so could not comment on its specific provisions.

“The Legislature would like to know what we are doing and to give them a heads up,” he said. “I have no problem trying to communicate. and give information to the Legislature.”

Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said the bill is designed to open up the lines of communications.

“(It) sets up a communication process for future governors and legislators. I think it is good policy to communicate,” the Senate leader said.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche