Herbert Vetoes Six Bills in Final Legislative Actions

Utah State Capitol 16GOP Gov. Gary Herbert finished up his work Wednesday on the 474 bills and resolutions passed by the 2016 Utah Legislature, which adjourned March 10.

The governor vetoed six bills, allowed one to become law without his signature (HB220 which the Democrats hated) and cut nine line items from various budget bills.

You can read the governor’s veto letters on his website, here.

He vetoed the following, along with their sponsors’ names:

H.B. 258 Solid Waste Amendments Rep. Curtis Oda
S.B. 87 Administrative Rulemaking Act Modifications Sen. Howard Stephenson
H.B. 377 Grandparent Rights Amendments Rep. LaVar Christensen
*H.B. 2 New Fiscal Year Supplemental Appropriations Act Rep. Dean Sanpei
*H.B. 3 Appropriations Adjustments Rep. Dean Sanpei
*S.B. 2 Public Education Budget Amendments Sen. Lyle Hillyard

The veto that may cause the most umbrage among GOP legislators is several million dollars for a variety of education programs in SB2 – the primary education funding bill.

In his veto letter, Herbert says there is already some money in various accounts to pay for similar, or the same, programs.

But he didn’t like the micro-managing of education programs, something he told legislators during the session when Herbert said more money should be placed in the WPU and not allocated for specific programs.

HB220 goes into law without Herbert’s signature. It places two more majority party members on the Legislature’s Audit Subcommittee and allows majority leaders on the Legislative Management Committee to break any tie votes.

Democrats say House Speaker Greg Hughes is behind the bill – although Hughes says he didn’t ask Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper to sponsor it – because new House Democratic leadership was outspoken in criticizing Hughes over Medicaid expansion last year.

In any case, Herbert said legislative management is up to that branch of government, and he wouldn’t interfere.

Herbert ended up signing SB115, a bill critics say gives Rocky Mountain Power significant authority in dealing with coal-fired generation and solar energy from homeowners.

The House voted down SB155 the final day of the session, but after heavy RMC lobbying brought it back five hours later and passed it four hours before adjournment.

   Herbert was lobbied hard on several other bills – especially HB276 – a measure aimed at defining state operations should Utah be successful in getting control of 31 million acres of federal land in the state.

Some archconservative constitutionalists wanted the bill vetoed by Herbert, saying locally elected county sheriffs should be the original power over public lands/law enforcement in rural areas, not state bureaucrats.

Herbert signed HB276 into law two days ago, not waiting for his final day to decide.

HB276 sponsor Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, battled the opposition on Facebook and other media. Noel also believes HB391, which Herbert signed into law Wednesday, gives county sheriffs and local government bosses power over BLM law enforcement officers and actions.

Herbert also signed SB234 several days ago. That bill will require doctors performing abortions to provide anesthesia to fetuses of a certain time in the womb, to arguably ensure no pain to the aborted fetus.

Utah is the first state to adopt such a law, and it is unclear if it will be challenged in the federal courts as a violation of a woman’s right to an early abortion.

Herbert didn’t have a voice on all 474 measures passed since the governor doesn’t have a say in constitutional amendments and what are called “joint resolutions” – items that are the sense of the legislative branch of government alone.

However, except for constitutional amendments, most of the joint resolutions are not weighty matters – but recognitions and compliments to various organizations, groups or issues.

The Senate refused to adopt two House resolutions that would have had Utah formally call for a convention of the states – whose goal would be U.S. constitutional amendments aimed at limiting terms of Congress, a balanced budget and limiting federal power over the states – crucial matters that Herbert would have had no say in.

Here are some 2016 bill/resolutions statistics:

— The 474 bills and resolutions passed in the short 45-day session (legislators don’t formally work on weekends or the Presidents Day federal holiday) is the smallest number passed since 2009.

Last year legislators passed a record 524 bills and resolutions.

— 824 bills and resolutions were formally numbered and introduced in the 2016 session.

— Accordingly, lawmakers passed 57.52 percent of all the legislation before them.

One reason lawmakers didn’t pass as many bills this year is because GOP leaders in the House and Senate decided to hold standing committee hearings on the Monday and Tuesday of the final four-day week, which ended in adjournment midnight March 10.

Time spent in committee hearings was time not on the floor in the House and Senate – and so less time the final week to pass bills.

House members especially have not liked the trend in recent years of some senators holding their bills on the Senate 3rd reading calendar until the final week of the session – passing them quickly and thus avoiding a standing committee hearing in the House.

So House leaders decided to hold House standing committee hearings for at least part of the two days of the final week – thus forcing senators to send over their bills in time to hold a House standing committee hearing on controversial Senate bills.

Senate leaders went along with the idea and held Senate standing committee hearings on that Monday and Tuesday as well.

But in an odd bit of scheduling, the Senate and the House were in standing committees at different times – and that led to having some senators presenting their bills in a House committee at the same time the 29-member Senate was in floor session.

So, on bills with close Senate votes, the sponsors had to hold the measures until enough Senators could be on the floor to get a full debate and vote – further delaying action.

Another reason for fewer bills being passed this session is that, for whatever reasons, the 75-member House had longer floor debates than usual the final ten days or so of the session.

As the Senate quickly passed House bills, senators often “sauntered,” or took breaks off the floor, so that the Senate would not be passing many more bills than the House was passing.

In their GOP House caucus, leaders several times urged House members not to speak on a bill unless they absolutely believed they had to so that House floor debate could move along faster, and more Senate bills could be considered.

Still and all, many may say that the fewer new laws Utah legislators pass each session is a good thing, rather than a detriment.

Hughes, R-Draper, and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, now have several weeks to poll their memberships to see if there are the required numbers to call an override session – where it would take two-thirds votes in the House and Senate to override any vetoes (bills or appropriations) and make them law.

Rarely does the GOP-controlled Legislature come into an override session on a Republican governor, much less actually override any of his vetoes.

But the polling of the House and Senate must take place under the law.