Lawmakers may have to adjust with H1N1 outbreak

Lawmakers may have to adjust with H1N1 outbreak

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- If swine flu takes hold in Utah this winter, lawmakers may have to give up large gatherings, in-person votes and even handshakes.

Several options may have to be considered for the annual 45-day legislative session if an H1N1 outbreak becomes an epidemic, said Michael Christensen, director of the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel.

"If things got really, really bad and the epidemic was really a sweeping event, one of the things obviously you don't want to do is gather in large groups," Christensen said.

One alternative is using the Utah Education Network, which connects the state's public junior high and high schools. Lawmakers could meet in a virtual session -- wired from locations around the state -- and cast votes via Blackberry phones.

"There would obviously have to be some work done to do that, but it is possible," he said.

"I'm a little bit apprehensive to trying to take on the full leap to an electronic legislative session, but if worse comes to worst, it's nice to know there's a fail-safe," said House Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara.

If the flu outbreak is particularly bad in Salt Lake City, lawmakers could also meet somewhere else in the state or postpone their session until later in the year.

Lawmakers may also want to limit the number of bills they introduce so they don't overwhelm the legislative staff that drafts bills and provides budget estimates, Clark said.

Other behavior might also change.

"I wonder if we should consider an informal rule to discourage shaking hands," said Rep. Carol Spackman Moss. "And I mean that seriously."

The Indiana state government already encourages elbow-bumps instead of handshakes to stop the spread of germs, according to David Sundwall, director of the Utah Department of Health.

The Legislature should plan for contingencies in case flu cases skyrocket, he said.

"This may seem like an over-reaction, but I'd rather have them overreact than under-react," he said.

Meanwhile, he said lawmakers that feel ill should stay home and the focus should remain on hand-washing and disinfecting doorknobs and countertops.


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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