Lawmakers could hold both a special session and veto override session online

Utah Capitol 24, your one-stop-shopping site for all things legislative (or at least we try) has talked to some folks who likely know how the upcoming, first-of-its-kind special session/override session called by the Legislature itself could be conducted.

We are told there could be a veto override session and a special called next week, although technically there would not be held at the same time, but one right after the other, on the same day.

House Majority Whip Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, is being encouraged by various individuals and groups to seek a veto override of his HB332, which passed 46-25 (5 absent) in the House and 17-12-0 in the Senate, but was vetoed by GOP Gov. Gary Herbert for a variety of reasons.

So, while only a few really political heads may care about this legislative-workings’ stuff, here is what has found out:

— Technically (and constitutionally) you can’t hold a special session and override session at the same time.

But, let’s say, lawmakers wanted to call themselves into a special session (the state Constitution was amended in 2018 to allow that) AND they wanted to consider overriding some of GOP Gov. Gary Herbert’s vetoes the same day.

This is how it would work:

— The House and Senate staff, on their own, call the 75 House members and 29 senators, polling them on two, separate items:

— Do you want to come into a special session?

— Do you want to come into an override session?

These are two different questions, two different polls taken.

IF the staff gets two-thirds votes on one or both of those questions, then the Legislature will come into special session, or a veto override session, or both, depending on which (or both) get two-thirds.

There IS NOT an agenda set on either question when polled, just if you want to come into the sessions.

— Once the override session convenes, then all items vetoed by the governor, whether a line item or a bill, are up for consideration. And it takes two-thirds vote, up or down, no amendments, to override a budget line item veto or a bill. The governor has no say — no second-bite of the apple — the appropriation or bill becomes law.

— If there are two-thirds votes by the House and the Senate members FOR a special session, then the Senate president — Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton — and House speaker — Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville — set the date and time for the special session and, jointly, they issue a “proclamation” listing the items that can be considered.

This has never been done before, but the Constitution doesn’t give a time frame (if the governor calls a special session, he must give 48 hours from his call to the Legislature convening).

That time frame is NOT in the amendment passed in 2018.

— So, after the two-thirds votes in each house, in theory the president and speaker “proclamation” could call the special session immediately, or some near time in the future.

— If the two legislative leaders decide to add something to the “proclamation,” they could add an item(s) with another “proclamation,” and could do it any time before or during a special session with no time warmings. They can just issue it and put item up on the House or Senate floor calendar for consideration.

The 24-hour Open Meetings agenda requirement likely doesn’t apply, since the “proclamation” in and of itself is the constitutionally-required public notice, is told.

There’s no statute on this, there is no case law on this, since the Legislature has never called itself into special session before.

It has been rather routine that a Utah governor, in the past, in calling a legislative special session, has added stuff to his call, but that was done 48 hours before lawmakers convened, so it was all Open-Meetings, 24-hour-allowed, anyway.

While it takes two-thirds of the House and Senate to call an override and/or special session, Republicans hold more than two-thirds majorities in both bodies, so they can do this without any Democrats approving.

In the past lawmakers — to save time — have held an override session in the morning, adjourned, then held a special session — called for and agendaed by the governor — later the same day.

This time, however, it could be that lawmakers call themselves into an override session, take votes on overriding Herbert’s vetoes, then adjourn, and are called into a special session (limited to 10 days) by themselves/their leaders the same day.

Any action taken in the special session must pass by just a majority (15 in the Senate, 38 in the House) and then goes to the governor for his signature or veto. And if he vetoes, there could be another veto override session.

Any veto overrides have to pass by two-thirds (20 in the Senate, 50 in the House) and don’t go back to the governor, but become law.

And, of course, any such sessions will be virtually online, members will dial in to participate from their homes because of the coronavirus. Debates and votes will be online, with the public allowed in to watch over their computers, but not to participate beyond that.

Finally, only the governor has “emergency” powers. The Legislature would have to pass a law quarantining people, or taking any other action, and then Herbert would have to sign it.

So it’s unlikely lawmakers will do anything with the real say-to-day battle against the coronavirus.