Herbert vetoes two bills he felt infringed on executive power; Warns lawmakers to stop legislating on non-compete contracts

Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed two bills Tuesday evening that he felt encroached on the constitutional powers of the executive branch.

Herbert vetoed SB171, which allowed the legislature to hire their own attorneys to intervene in lawsuits against brought by outside groups against legislation they pass.

He also put the veto stamp on HB198, which required the Attorney general to provide an opinion to the legislature when they ask for one.

Herbert essentially telegraphed the vetoes during his monthly KUED press conference last week when he said he was worried about lawmakers overstepping the line between the branches.

In a veto letter, Herbert said he vetoed SB198 because “it poses a significant threat to the ability of the Executive Branch to receive legal counsel from the Attorney General.” 

HB198 sprung from last year’s fight over rules for the special Congressional election in Utah’s 3rd District. State law only says that the Governor is to call for an election when there’s a vacancy in Congress, but does not specify rules for said election. Lawmakers requested that Herbert call a special session so they could set the rules for the election, but Herbert decided to use existing state law, which provided for candidates to either gather signatures or use the convention path to the ballot.

Lawmakers asked Attorney General Sean Reyes to give them a legal opinion on Herbert’s decision. Reyes drafted a memo, but Herbert’s office blocked the AG from releasing it to lawmakers because he claimed it violated attorney/client privilege as he said the AG had already acted as his lawyer in the matter.

Herbert said he vetoed SB171 because having lawyers from the legislative branch get involved in litigation against the state “intrudes on a function that is inherently and exclusively in the domain of the Executive Branch.” He also said in his veto letter that “Intervention by the legislature would only disrupt judicial proceedings.”

Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, who sponsored SB171, disagreed with Herbert’s reasoning.

“(The bill) did not take away any of the responsibilities or obligations of the Attorney General or the Executive Branch to defend the state,” he said. “Our ability to intervene and express our opinion in these matters is as much of a right as the AG, and we feel it’s clear that we should have this right.”

Both SB171 and HB198 passed the legislature with supermajorities, which means lawmakers may try to override Herbert’s veto. 

“It’s too early to tell,” said Adams when asked about a veto override session.

Lawmakers did pass a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the legislature to call themselves into a special session. Right now, only the Governor has that power. Voters will decide on that amendment at the ballot box in November.

Herbert also signed a controversial piece of legislation, HB241, which prohibited non-compete contracts for employees working in the news media. The bill was vociferously opposed by news stations which often use non-compete contracts to keep high-profile employees from bolting to other news outlets. 

However, Herbert’s signature on the bill came with a warning to legislators. He wrote in a signing letter “Future attempts to legislate on this issue during my administration will be met with a veto.”