By Representative Brady Brammer, District 27
At what point does an emergency stop being an emergency?
Consider this simplistic litmus test: would you be offended if the Governor or your mayor took a short vacation? If your answer is “no,” we probably are no longer in an emergency.
This week, the legislature is declining to extend the emergency declaration related to COVID-19. My colleagues in the legislature take COVID-19 very seriously. However, they recognized the time for emergency measures has passed.
It is time for our response to mature and follow the process set forth by our constitution whereby laws are passed by the legislature and executed by the Governor. It is time for a return to the roles that the citizens elected these bodies to perform.
Emergencies arise from unexpected events that require immediate action. Think fires, floods and earthquakes. In March of this year, we had a legitimate emergency. COVID-19 was unexpected and required immediate action. As a result, the legislature delegated significant powers to our executive branch to provide an immediate and effective response.
Thanks to the actions of an engaged citizenry, our first responders and good leadership within the state, Utah has weathered COVID-19 remarkably well by virtually any metric. We have a low death rate, our hospitals are well below capacity (and never came close to overwhelming our capacity) and our unemployment rate is second best in the nation at 5.1%.
In large part, Governor Herbert has effectively managed this crisis. Moreover, various mayors and the legislature have stepped up to mitigate the damages, manage our budget and provide policies to directly assist the citizens of Utah through these difficult times.
Despite this success, our system of government is not built for indeterminate emergencies. A state of emergency is harmful. It disrupts lives, it inherently causes a temporary trampling of rights, it disregards the checks and balances of government and it creates a heightened anxiety that wears people out. These costs may be worth it in the short term but cannot be justified in the long run.
For example, the current long-term state of emergency has caused communication whiplash. The orders and directives move fast and change often. Should we wear masks? No masks? Face shields? Are you sure? What about rent?
I recently spoke with a teacher bemoaning the numerous changes and guidelines coming from numerous areas of government to tell them how to safely do their job. It has been maddening and confusing. The returned stability of our standard process of lawmaking is needed.
COVID-19 is no longer a four-alarm fire justifying the emergency sirens of a firetruck with Governor Herbert and your mayor to the rescue. It is still serious and still requires vigilance, but it is now a smoldering fire. The time for the emergencies is over and it is now time for thoughtful, cooperative legislation.
Moreover, citizens have shown they can evaluate and respond to risks to protect both themselves and their neighbors. Justifying paternalistic policies through continued declarations of emergency belittles our citizens and the trust they place in their leaders.
Part of being a good leader is knowing when to return the stewardship of legislative powers delegated for a task. With gratitude for their willingness to step up when called upon, I call upon our executive leaders to show the leadership we hoped for when we elected them. To be leaders that willingly relinquish power after the moment of crisis passes. To recognize that COVID-19 is no longer an emergency. Such an action does not diminish the seriousness of COVID-19. Rather, it elevates the role of our citizens, it honors the oath of office by supporting our separation of powers and it is a chance to show the character we believe you to possess.