In a wide-ranging press conference Thursday, GOP Gov. Gary Herbert gave some interesting perspectives on big issues coming before the state Legislature, which meets in annual session Monday.
Transgender Utahns should be able to change their sex designation on birth certificates and other official state documents. (A bill has been introduced to stop that re-designation.)
There should be a debate over whether Utah should strengthen its hate crime law by allowing a person convicted of a crime to get enhanced penalties if they committed the crime against a person because of his personal traits, including his or her gender preferences. (Such hate crime legislation has been killed without debate in the last several sessions.)
Prop 3 – Medicaid expansion – should be implemented and allowed to run for a bit before lawmakers step in and restrict it, although it is clear to him that full expansion can’t be financially maintained in the long term without some changes to Prop 3.
The citizen initiative process must be maintained, and in his view, current law which allows post-signature deadline removal of petition names should be eliminated, or at least both petition signing, and the removing of names from petitions, should run at the same time to keep things fair.
The current federal government shutdown has nothing really to do with a wall on the Mexican border but is a “food fight” between Republican President Donald Trump and new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, over who is “king” in Washington, D.C.
His solution: Cull the $5.7 billion for border security from overall federal budgets – a “rounding error” in the $4 trillion federal spending -- and reopen the government.
SB54, the dual candidate pathway law, seems to have worked well and citizens like it, said Herbert. He declined to say he would veto a pure SB54 repeal bill (already introduced) but said the law had preserved the caucus/convention alternative as intended.
He wants to wait to see if the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the state GOP’s appeal – let that process run out before deciding SB54’s future.
Herbert is entering his second-to-last 45-day general session – he’s not running for re-election in 2020.
The governor told his monthly KUED Channel 7 press conference he is “excited” for the session and hopes every Utahn will take the opportunity to talk to their Utah House and Senate members and be involved in the law-making process – the most important political activity outside of elections.
Herbert maintained that there is a place in this session for his $200 million tax cut, considering there is a $1.3 billion surplus in one-time and ongoing tax revenue.
The tax cut should come even though lawmakers are talking about changing Prop. 3 to cap Medicaid enrollment and imposing some kind of work requirement for eligible low-income Utahns, if they are physically and mentally able to be trained for, and take jobs.
Pressed on the issue over changes to Prop. 3 when it appears the state has the money for two or three years of Prop. 3 without intervention – Herbert said, “Your view is logical.”
He added that Prop. 3 should be fully implemented, and see how many low-income folks sign up, and see if the Trump administration will give needed waivers, including picking up 90 percent of funding to Utah’s 10 percent.
However, there is already a Prop. 3 amendment bill being prepared – maybe more than one – that would immediately change the program to limit the number of Medicaid-eligible add-ons to 100,000 people.
Herbert wants the current state sales tax base to be greatly broadened, and then the tax rate to be cut to give a $200 million reduction.
However, GOP legislative leaders are talking about giving that $200 million reduction in the state income tax, not the sales tax.
Herbert said some “fights are worth fighting” even if changing the law results in long, expensive court battles.
He was referring to a bill that would cut the abortion period from the first 20 weeks of life to 15 weeks.
Abortion has been the most divisive American political debate since the Vietnam War, said Herbert.
The 1973 Row v. Wade Supreme Court ruling of allowing abortions up to 20 weeks, or viability out of the womb, is now old science, said the governor. And perhaps viability can be determined at earlier pregnancy weeks.
So there are appropriate points of revisiting controversial, older law. The abortion debate should take place in the Legislature, Herbert added.
And like with all bills he sees coming to his desk for veto or signing, he and his staff will be working with legislators over the next 45 days to get the best legislation possible – resulting in bills he can sign.