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Herbert to call special session to deal with Operation Rio Grande issues next week

By Katie McKellar, KSL  |  Posted Sep 13th, 2017 @ 4:47pm



SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert will call the Utah Legislature into a special session next Wednesday to deal with some issues related to homelessness and Operation Rio Grande.

Paul Edwards, Hebert's deputy chief of staff, confirmed Wednesday the governor will call lawmakers into special session Sept. 20.

Though Edwards could not confirm exactly what is on the agenda because it's still being sorted out, he did say "there may be some discussion around an item or two related to Operation Rio Grande" — the massive, multi-agency effort to tackle crime in Salt Lake City's most troubled neighborhood and help the state's most needy.

Edwards also confirmed there will be "a couple of items that will be unrelated" to homelessness or Operation Rio Grande, but he couldn't elaborate on them yet.

Recently, House Speaker Greg Hughes and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski have both referenced the need for a special legislative session to deal with a lease between Salt Lake City and the state to close a portion of Rio Grande Street between the Road Home shelter and Catholic Community Services at 200 South.

The street closure is meant to create a "safe space" for people seeking homeless services in the area, fenced off to protect from drug dealing for the next two years until the troubled, 1,100-bed Road Home shelter on 210 S. Rio Grande shutters in July 2019.

After initially closing the street to vehicular traffic only, Biskupski last week signed a temporary lease to the state to initiate a closure to pedestrian traffic so state officials can begin fencing off the area for the safe space.

The City Council is then expected to consider the longer term, two-year lease on Tuesday, the day before the special session.

Hughes and Biskupski have said the two-year closure would need approval from the Legislature.

While The Road Home and Catholic Community Services leaders have expressed support for the idea, at least one service provider, Crossroads Urban Center, has expressed concern about the fenced area and a proposed ID card system Hughes has discussed to help identify everyone in the area and further separate those seeking homeless services from criminals.

Glenn Bailey, executive director of Crossroads Urban Center, said the fenced off area and an ID system creates "constitutional questions," and he worries the secure area might scare some people away who would otherwise want to access services but would rather not encounter law enforcement or other authorities managing the area.

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