Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Lawmakers Taking a Wait and See Approach to SB54

bernick mugWhile there has been no formal agreement, UtahPolicy is being told by several Republican legislative leaders that they don’t see any significant changes to SB54 being passed this session.

The GOP House and Senate caucuses have been briefed on the current state Republican Party federal lawsuit and the desires for perhaps minor changes to SB54 by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s state elections office.

In a leadership meeting Thursday, the GOP bosses discussed what could or could not be of value in SB54 changes this session, which started Jan. 25 and ends March 10.

“We don’t see what can be accomplished,” one leader said.

Of course, there is now a long history of SB54. And the 2016 election cycle is the first time the candidate dual-route to the primary process is in effect.

Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, who is running for the Senate this year, has introduced HB131, which basically repeals the new election law.

Ironically, Anderegg is signed up as a signature-gathering candidate.

He recently told UtahPolicy that he doesn’t know if he’ll turn his signatures in, and, in any case, will go before his Senate District 14 state Republican delegates for approval.

He’s a leading conservative, and it would be hard for a challenger to take on Anderegg from his political right.

Anderegg voted against SB54 when it passed in 2014.

The state GOP, which never agreed to the SB54 compromise with the then-signature effort of Count My Vote, has recently filed another lawsuit in Utah’s federal court.

It’s hoped that Judge David Nuffer, who ruled on the previous GOP SB54 lawsuit, can quickly act on the new case – while Nuffer has sent to the Utah Supreme Court the party’s core complaint: That it should be allowed to use only the delegate/convention route to the party’s primary.

But whether either court will rule in a timely fashion this spring to actually impact the 2016 pre-primary process is uncertain.

Facing those court-timing issues, GOP leaders, UtahPolicy is told, will take a hands-off approach to SB54 this session.

Could Anderegg’s HB131 actually pass?

“I don’t see that,” said one source.

Forty-nine House members voted for SB54 two years ago. Seven of those were Republicans who are no longer in the House, so their replacements could vote for repeal without changing a previous stand.

Democrats generally favor SB54; all House Democrats voted for it before.

But even if you take away those seven GOP votes, there would still be 42 House votes this year for keeping SB54 – 38 being a House majority.

So it doesn’t appear Anderegg has the votes to repeal.

And GOP Gov. Gary Herbert signed SB54, so he would have to change his mind, as well.

In any case, as reported previously in UtahPolicy, most of the 2016 legislative candidates who have signed up to start their signature-petition drives are Republicans.

And it would be odd — with Anderegg as the exception — for a sitting legislator to vote to repeal a candidate route option when he or she themselves are taking that option this year.

But SB54 has resulted in strange political bedfellows on both sides.

GOP legislative leaders would be wise to do nothing with SB54 this session.

Let the court proceedings play out.

And let’s see what one election cycle of SB54 really looks like.