Veto Showdown Could be Brewing Over SB 54

Written by Bob Bernick on . Posted in Today At Utah Policy

The Utah Senate on Thursday morning will take up SB54, Sen. Curt Bramble’s ingenious response to Count My Vote – the citizen initiative that would take candidate nominations out of party delegates’ hands and allow for a direct primary.

 

Even opponents of SB54 have marveled at Bramble’s cleverness.

The senator from Provo says SB54 is a “compromise” between the CMV initiative and what CMV leaders’ agreed to move to last spring if the Utah Republican Party adopted some caucus/convention changes.

CMV president Rich McKeown says CMV never agreed to a 65 percent candidate nomination level – that’s in SB54 -- but always insisted on a 70 percent level.

But what’s 5 percentage points among friends. Or maybe not friends.

Anyway, look for SB54 to briskly move through the legislative process, now that GOP Gov. Gary Herbert has hinted that he may veto the measure.

Why?

Because GOP leaders – who apparently are all backing SB54 – will want the 2014 Legislature to still be in session should Herbert use his big red pen.

The Utah Constitution – which apparently was not inspired by God as the U.S. Constitution was because it contains the citizen initiative petition process – says in ArticleVII, Section 8that any bill properly passed by the Legislature, and presented to the governor for his consideration while the Legislature is in session, the governor has 10 days (excluding Sundays and the first day the bill arrives in his office) to either sign the bill, veto it, or the bill becomes law without his signature.

Now, let’s do some simple math (which is the only kind of math I can do).

SB54 will be voted on 2nd Reading Thursday. It will most likely pass.

Friday, Feb. 21, the Senate may approve it on 3rd Reading.

Depending on what time the Senate approves it, SB54 could be “read in” the same day in the House – to start the process in the other body.

Now, the House is demanding that all Senate bills get a public hearing in the House (there is a whole other dispute over this, but let that ride for now).

SB54 has to go to House Rules who will assign it to a House standing committee.

Little time will be wasted here, and SB54 will likely be out for a hearing by Feb. 25 (with the proper 24-hour public notice).

The committee will approve it, and SB54 will be read into the House 3rd Reading calendar bynext Wednesday.

Let’s say that House GOP leaders don’t want to dawdle – and they won’t.

So SB54 is moved to the top of the 3rd Reading Calendar – ahead of other bills waiting their turns -- for a vote on Feb. 27 or 28.

(Or GOP leaders could set a “time certain” for SB54 to be heard to hurry it through the process, and pass up other bills on the calendar.)

It is now officially passed the Legislature.

Say it takes a day to be enrolled by staff and the official, really-nicely-printed copy goes down to Herbert’s office and is officially signed in.

Now the 10-day clock starts ticking for real.

By my count, Herbert will have to either sign, veto or allow SB54 to become law by March 11– two days BEFORE the Legislature must adjourn at midnight March 13.

Why would GOP legislative leaders care about forcing Herbert to make a veto decision while they are still in general session?

Because it is always easier to get a veto override when lawmakers’ blood is up – while they are in the heat of the general session moment.

It takes two-thirds vote in the Senate, two-thirds in the House, to override a gubernatorial veto.

Democrats – even if SB54 were a partisan measure, and I’m guessing that Bramble will get a few Democratic votes – don’t even have one-third numbers in either body. So the minority party couldn’t stop an SB54 override, even if they wanted to.

Also, you want Herbert to be troubling about an insulting veto while you are still hammering out the budget and pushing the governor this way and that on any number of other issues.

Veto SB54 and he may not get this or that item which he really, really wants out of the 2014 session.

Anyway, once out of session lawmakers aren’t physically united.

Like stray cattle, back in their home districts, they are more likely to wander – maybe actually listen to their constituents – many of whom may have signed the CMV petition and have opinions (Lord forbid) on a salient public issue. (CMV leaders say they have more than 100,000 signatures so far, well on their way to have more than 102,000 by the April 15 filing deadline.)

Never is a governor more popular with the citizenry than when he or she takes on the Utah Legislature – and thwart through a veto some illogical act.

The late Democratic Gov. Scott M. Matheson, I remember, loved to tweak the GOP-controlled Legislature’s collective noses.

I recall once, as the Legislature was debating some ill-conceived legislation, Matheson addressed the crowd gathered at the start of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade (the Legislature had a different meeting schedule back then).

Matheson yelled: “Get the British out of Ireland and the Legislature out of Utah,” much to the loud cheers of those assembled.

With 35 years experience of watching public opinion polls, I can say a governor is rarely more popular than right after a Legislature ends, providing he takes on unwisely-passed legislation.

Who knows if Herbert will sign or veto SB54 – which almost assuredly will come to his desk.

But in the meantime, watch how steadily, and without undue hindrance, SB54 moves through Senate votes, House hearings, House votes and to Herbert’s desk – arriving with more than 10 days left in the session.

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