Hughes says he thinks there are enough votes for a veto override session

Get ready for a rare veto override session by the Utah Legislature.

GOP Speaker Greg Hughes tells that while he is not guaranteeing one, he imagines there will be one.

“I think it may be up to the Senate,” said Hughes. Who added it looks to him like there are the votes in the House to hold a session before the May 1 deadline.

A Senate source said the vote so far is close there. “It could go either way.”

Officially, it takes a formal poll of senators and representatives – with two-thirds in each house wanting an override session – for leaders to call such a session.

GOP Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed two bills that likely could be overridden if the original-passage votes hold up – HB198 and SB171.

The Senate and House leadership have set a 5 p.m. Wednesday deadline for members to get back to them with their votes on whether to hold such a session.

There hasn’t been an override session for 15 years – although the governor has vetoed a few bills at the end of each general session since.

Starting with his first session as governor in 2010, if Herbert did veto a bill or budget line item, if severe objections came from lawmakers he would offer to call a special session himself to fix the issue he objected to.

Herbert has not made that offer this year, interestingly enough.

And that’s because of the nature of the vetoes this year – both dealing with powers of the legislative branch of government.

“We may be a part-time body,” said Hughes. “But we should not be treated as a part-time branch of government.

“We work only part-time, but it is a full-time branch,” equal to the executive and judicial branches, he added.

HB198 passed 62-0 in the House with 13 not voting; passed 23-0 in the Senate with six not voting.

It only makes sense that bill would get two-thirds for a veto override, said Hughes.

SB171 passed 61-8 in the House, with six not voting, and 20-3 in the Senate, with six not voting.

Two-thirds is 50 in the House and 20 in the Senate. So SB171 barely has two-thirds in the Senate, assuming none of the six absent vote for an override.

Otherwise, the two-thirds votes stand up easily on both measures.

However, SB171 was sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton – and Adams could be the next Senate president.

“We did concentrate heavily” in the 2018 Legislature “on measures that make the legislative branch stronger,” said Hughes.

That all stems from the confrontation GOP and Democratic leaders had with Herbert a year ago.

U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, was preparing to resign his U.S. House seat last spring. Utah had not had a special U.S. House election in 75 years – and Utah law only said the governor would follow legislative action in calling such a special election.

Hughes et al. wanted Herbert to call a special session so the GOP-controlled Legislature could set the election process.

But Herbert declined – instead following his constitutional authority of setting up the election process himself.

That angered many lawmakers – mostly the Republicans who wanted to make up the rules to fill a seat that very likely would be won by whomever the GOP nominee was. (Then-Provo Mayor John Curtis, the GOP nominee, did win the seat.)

Hughes, R-Draper, and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, both of whom are not seeking re-election this year, asked Republican Attorney General Sean Reyes for an opinion on the legality of Herbert’s action.

The opinion was written, but Herbert objected to it being released based on attorney-client privilege – and Reyes held it.

(It was later released and showed Herbert acted within the law.)

So HB198 says the AG MUST give an opinion to the Legislature if asked for.

SB171 says legislative leaders – acting as the Legislative Management Committee – can enter any lawsuit in which a legislative-passed law is being challenged in court – while recognizing that the AG is the official attorney for the state as a whole.

Lawmakers also passed a state constitutional amendment, that if approved by voters in November, will allow lawmakers to call themselves into a special session under restricted circumstances – like an “emergency.”

Now, only the governor can call special sessions; only he sets the agenda.

The exception is a veto override session – which legislative leaders can call before May 1 if the governor vetoes any bills or line item budget requests.

Utah governors don’t get an official say on a constitutional amendment – it goes directly to voters.

Although Herbert says he opposes passage of the amendment, saying constitutional frames were wise to not allow the Legislature to call itself into a special session – adding the body should maintain its part-time work status.