Utah Legislature overrides veto of bill requiring state offices to reopen on Fridays

Published: Saturday, May 7 2011 11:56 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY – The Senate voted 21-6 Saturday night to override Gov. Gary Herbert's veto of a bill eliminating the state's four-day work week, ending a rare override session that began a day earlier.

With Saturday's vote, the Republican controlled Legislature has overridden two of the GOP governor's four vetoes — HB328, requiring state offices to reopen on Fridays, and SB229, earmarking 30 percent of future sales tax revenues for roads.

The House had the votes Friday to take action on both bills. The Senate, however, could only come up with the two-thirds majority needed on HB328 after Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, returned Saturday from a meeting in Boston. He was picked up at the airport by the Utah Highway Patrol, which drove him to the Capitol.

The vote came quickly Saturday and the session, which started about 7:45 p.m., was over in about a half-hour.

"This takes us back to where we were as a five-day work week, but it gives the agencies of the state a lot of latitude," Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, told members before the vote.

Jenkins said the bill will allow department heads to decide which state offices should be reopened on Fridays, and whether extended hours should be continued Mondays through Thursdays.

But Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake, said there's not enough time before the bill takes effect Sept. 17 to ensure those changes are done "in a way that's not growing government."

McAdams also echoed concerns about the impact on state employees that were raised by other Democrats Friday in refusing to offer any votes for the override when the GOP vote count came up short. 

But Saturday, Senate Minority Whip Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, broke ranks and voted for the override. Morgan, who missed Friday's session, said "the bottom line is it's the citizens we're here to serve."

The governor, whose birthday was Saturday, said in a statement that "there is no debate over whether the state should support expanded services." He already had agreed to mandate that state agencies offer critical services on Fridays in person, on the telephone or online.

"The only issue here was that the Legislature failed to pay for it; there was no funding for this bill," Herbert said. "But there is a $790,000 price tag for turning on the lights and opening the doors an additional day. Regardless of the override, they are still going to have to pay for the expanded Friday services."

Senators, however, questioned whether that estimated cost was accurate. "Those monies are (what we would spend) if we went back to the original five-day work week," Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton said during the floor debate. "This could be less."

Former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. established the shortened work week more than three years ago as a way to save on energy costs. But the millions of dollars in savings promised from shuttering state offices never materialized.

Senate Majority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, said the issue could have waited until the 2012 Legislature begins in January.

"There hasn't been a big demand by the public for us to change this back," Romero said. "It does undermine our efforts at efficiencies and on maintenance operations of our buildings. Not to mention the disruption to our state employees."

Jenkins acknowledged the extra day of the override session cost taxpayers money, but said for political reasons, the vote had to be taken now.

"It's called momentum. When you've got the momentum, you have to go with it," Jenkins said. "You learn down here when you've got the votes, you've got to move with it. We had the votes now."

Jenkins said the veto overrides shouldn't be seen as anything more than a disagreement with Herbert over policy. 

"We're from the same party. We think we have a great governor," he said. "You shouldn't read a lot into this. We don't believe we have a damaged relationship with the governor."

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com

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