Herbert Vetoes Three Bills; Lawmakers to Consider Override Session

Now that GOP Gov. Gary Herbert has vetoed three bills, it’s up to the 104 part-time lawmakers to decide if they want to call themselves into a special veto-override session.


House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo – who in two years may run for governor herself – and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, will poll their respective members to see if there is two-thirds in favor of an override session.

But considering this is an election year for all 75 House members and half of the 29-member Senate, internal politics may lead incumbents – especially the Republicans facing challenges from another Republican – to back down on these specific vetoes.

Herbert vetoed:

HB414, a bill that would have given the legislative branch of government great powers in subpoenaing witnesses in a formal legislative investigation.

The governor said it violates basic American civil rights, especially since the bill says a person can’t go to court in seeking to stop the subpoena.

SB257, a bill that would have required a statewide citizen board that now deals with several school policies to take over citizen disputes about individual school or school district curriculum and other complaints.

The PTA, State School Board and members of the citizen committee itself asked Herbert to veto the bill. The citizen board members said they didn’t sign up for such an expansive mission, while the PTA and State School Board members said individual districts and principals should deal with those issues, as they do now.

HB102, an innocuous bill that received little attention during the session which turned out would have stopped several rural cities and businesses moving ahead with agreed upon expansions of natural gas service.

Herbert let three bills become law without his signature, saying they contained technical errors that could be fixed later, perhaps during an anticipated special session later this year called by Herbert to get lawmakers to sign off on his Medicaid expansion – which still must be worked out with the Obama administration.

And Herbert vetoed one relatively-small budget line item of around $100,000 because it was a duplicate expenditure found elsewhere in the huge $13.5-billion budget for fiscal 2015, which begins July 1.

Herbert was heavily lobbied to veto HB414 and SB257.

He said he listened to all sides, consulted his “excellent” staff and in the end decided that the policy those bills sought to change was just wrong.

At first blush, one may believe that lawmakers – after going through the $4 million investigation of former Attorney General John Swallow – would get their backs up over Herbert killing a bill aimed at forcing more cooperation should the legislative branch of government face another such difficult task.

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, ran HB414, and he was the chairman of the special Swallow investigation committee.

Dunnigan said several times that Swallow’s stonewalling of committee subpoenas – and the stonewalling of several other witnesses the committee wanted information from – cost the state millions of dollars.

But HB414 was passed in the final two days of the 45-day general session, said Herbert. And it didn’t get committee hearings in both the House and Senate.

Even though some lawmakers questioned Dunnigan about civil liberty process problems in the bill in floor debate, they were told that any problems could be fixed later.

Herbert said he usually gives most bills the benefit of the doubt.

But when the issue is “absolute violations of civil rights,” he must act. And he said he did so appropriately.

Cut your typical Utah GOP voter and he will bleed Republican red. But just under that skin in many conservatives is also a bit of a libertarian streak, especially some Utah Tea Party members.

It was the far right, along with the media and civil libertarians, that rose up together and formed the unholy union that sunk HB477 – the GRAMA “reform” bill of several years ago.

Tea Partiers don’t much trust government – even the GOP-controlled Legislature.

And tell them this election year that lawmakers are trying to throw aside constitutional rights, even in the case of crooked officeholders, just so the Legislature can investigate people more easily. . . well, that could be a hornets nest not worth stirring.

Especially since lawmakers would have to call themselves into an override special session during April – right when GOP county and state political convention delegates are voting on incumbent Republican lawmakers, some of whom are being challenged from the right of their own party.

SB247 is a bit of a different monkey.

Sponsor Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, has long looked for ways to tweak the noses of the public school establishment.

But when you have the PTA saying veto this bill; when you have the very people you are trying to give power to saying they don’t want the power or responsibility; that changes the politics.

Just as the 2013 Legislature started, in her opening remarks, Lockhart criticized Herbert for not vetoing enough bills.

At the opening of the 2014 Legislature she said Herbert was an “inaction figure” sitting in the governor’s office.

Lockhart may want to take on Herbert over some of these new vetoes. But it is unclear if two-thirds of her 61-member caucus will go along with her.

It takes 50 votes to overturn a veto in the House, 20 in the Senate. If 12 House Republicans (it’s hard to see any of the vetoed bills getting any Democratic votes) don’t join the override effort, it fails.

HB414 passed 59-15.

The bill had five Democrats – three of them who sat on the Swallow committee – voting for it. Assuming those Democrats don’t want to “absolutely” harm civil rights, there were 54 Republicans who voted for it.

Change only five of those votes and you fall short on a veto override of HB414.

Lockhart and Niederhauser have 40 days to call an override session, assuming two-thirds of each house favor one.

The clock started at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.