UTAH – The Utah Legislature will convene in a special session Wednesday. They’ll decide how to allocate federal pandemic aid and consider banning mask mandates in school, among other things.
Lawmakers are expected to accept about $1.6 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act, but they’re only planning to spend about $575 million right now.
“We’re going to put the rest of the money, that billion dollars, into buckets and allocate that to different areas and take more time to make sure that we’re spending appropriately,” Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said.
This week, lawmakers are also considering spending $100 million on water infrastructure projects including conservation, digging wells and dam safety.
“Water is probably the most critical infrastructure that we’ve not funded,” Adams said.
The legislature is also set to consider banning mask mandates in K-12 schools and higher education.
“We’ve got vaccinations available for those that are 12 years old and older,” he said. “We’re not seeing fatalities in the younger population, the school teachers have been vaccinated and we’re talking three or four months out. Really, there’s probably no need for a mask.”
Gov. Spencer Cox announced last week the statewide school mask mandate would be lifted during the last week of the academic year, but districts could still institute their own.
Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, had also hoped to include proposals to ban critical race theory in Utah schools and to declare Utah a 2nd Amendment Sanctuary State.
In a letter to Adams and Wilson, Cox said the Legislature would pass better policies if it waited to take up those hot-button issues during the General Session early next year.
“I am on record saying that [Critical Race Theory] has no place in our curriculum,” Cox wrote. “The difficulty, however, comes in defining terms and making sure that we are never stifling thought or expression — and that we make sure our children learn both the best of our past as well as our mistakes so we don’t repeat them.”
When it comes to 2nd Amendment rights, Cox underscored his support for gun rights, including signing a bill that removes the requirement to carry a permit for a concealed weapon. He said, for now, any federal law that might violate the right to bear arms should be addressed through a lawsuit.