The period right after the conclusion of a legislative session is rather like the days after houseguests — who overstayed their welcome ?— make a hurried departure. A lot of housecleaning needs to be done, while the strange smells linger. Almost two weeks have passed since the gavel banged, but most discussion in political circles still focus on Utah's lawmakers and what they have wrought.
Will and should Gov. Gary Herbert veto any bills passed by the legislature?
Pignanelli: "The status quo is the only solution that cannot be vetoed." — Clark Kerr
There are more bills on the current kill list than in years past — especially since Speaker Becky Lockhart questioned Herbert's courage to use veto powers. Legislation to allow Utahns to carry concealed weapons without a permit is the obvious and most requested victim. Experienced gun owners do not need, and those with dangerous intentions will not seek, a permit. But novices packing heat around town require the benefit of the permit instruction to protect the public and themselves. Spend 10 seconds on the thought of a goofball like me carrying a gun without a permit and you will scream for a veto.
Bills prohibiting smoking in cars with children and penalizing teenagers for using a cell phone while driving are popular with advocacy organizations, but libertarian sensibilities are offended and they seek gubernatorial disapproval. Grumblings between the executive branch and the Legislature over transportation funding in HB77 could foster a line-item veto. Some of the governor's important objectives were not funded and he may veto line items in the budget as a retaliatory shot across the bow.
Webb: Gov. Herbert said several times that he saw no need to alter Utah's gun laws, so I expect he will veto the bill allowing strange people like Frank to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. Lots of legislators who felt pressured to vote for the bill are hoping he will veto it. Gun legislation at both state and national levels is mostly a distraction from more important things. Despite all the hoopla, when all is said and done, the nation's and Utah's gun laws won't be much different than they are today.
Gov. Herbert should sign or veto bills based on his good judgment and common sense, without regard to politics or pressure. His role in the lawmaking process is as important as the Legislature's, and he should exert his authority as he sees fit.
What trends or themes are political observers gleaning from the session?
Pignanelli: While a number of bills and resolutions attacked the traditional villains (i.e., United Nations, federal government, environmental activists, etc.) there was little morality legislation. Although the sexual orientation antidiscrimination legislation did not receive a full hearing in the Senate, it did pass out of committee without typical hostility. Indeed, the sponsor of the bill — Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George — enjoyed support from fellow conservative colleagues. This is a signal of the rise of libertarianism in Utah politics. True conservatives want to keep government out of the marketplace and out of people's personal lifestyles.
Webb: This was a session where mainstream Utah values mostly prevailed. The far right is still well-represented, but they didn't dominate. No one knew quite what to expect from the large contingent of new lawmakers, but they learned quickly and did just fine. For the most part, the views of mainstream Utahns were reflected in the actions of our 104 citizen lawmakers.
The news media and some political observers say this was a boring session. Is that true?
Pignanelli: The media judges a session by controversial legislation or scandals. As someone who spends 12 hours a day at the Capitol during this stressful time, I apply a different determinant of excitement: the amount of high-octane refreshment consumed at the end of the week to restore my sanity (This was an average year). Legislative leadership performed a great service to the state by keeping their flocks in line with little diversions. There were plenty of intense policy debates (water, hotel, Internet tax, guns, etc.) to provide excitement to insiders.
Webb: It was a workman-like, low-key session in which lawmakers took care of the state's basic needs, balanced the budget and got the job done. In contrast to the dysfunctional national Congress, which can only lurch from crisis to crisis, the 2014 session was a model of responsibility, competence and efficiency.
Still, recognizing that legislatures are, by nature, reactive and not prone to long-term planning, I would like to see more vision, more focus on big issues — the game-changers that will take Utah to the next level. I like leaders who have big ideas, who aren't afraid to take on sweeping, tough initiatives. In education, for example, we saw increased funding for mostly the status quo, but no fundamental reform or restructuring to create the 21st century education model. One big idea legislative success was taking steps to move the state prison, making way for a high-tech corridor that could be a $1 trillion economic game-changer for Utah. We need more such visionary efforts.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: email@example.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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