SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill Thursday banning smoking in vehicles with child passengers just hours after suggesting he was considering vetoing it along with another bill changing how public school performance is graded.
The governor's deputy chief of staff, Ally Isom, said after discussing concerns raised about the smoking bill by several legislators who wanted to weigh in, "nothing shared with him warranted a veto."
Herbert, she said, "does due diligence. He gets phone calls. People want to talk to him." Isom said the bill was never on the governor's "veto list" but had been among the bills he saw as concerning.
The governor already vetoed the controversial "constitutional carry" gun bill from the 2013 Legislature, HB76. Lawmakers are waiting until after Herbert's Wednesday deadline for taking action on bills before deciding whether to attempt a veto override.
"I'm hopeful we won't veto anything more," the governor said during the recording of his monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7, noting he has already dealt with 250 bills, about half the number passed during the recently ended session.
He said there are "probably less than ten that I've got any great concern about right now," including some education and air quality legislation, but declined initially to be more specific.
After the recording, the governor told the Deseret News that both HB13, which would fine drivers who smoke while children are riding in their vehicles, and SB271, which amends the state's school grading law passed in 2011, were on that list.
"There's some concern of liberty, of the government being too much of a 'nanny state,' you know, on making us do things," Herbert said of the smoking ban that passed after years of failed attempts. "I'm looking into it to make sure we do the right thing."
During the session, the governor said he saw the need for the bill. "I think we ought to do everything we can to protect children," he said earlier this month, suggesting they needed "a little help from government to make sure we as adults act responsibly."
The sponsor of HB13, Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, said she was pleased to hear the bill had been signed. "This is so important for children's health. That's what this bill is all about."
Earlier in the day, Arent had been surprised to hear the governor's comments about the bill and urged the bill's supporters to contact his office.
Dr. Kevin Nelson, a pediatrician who backed the bill, said it had a lot of support.
"I think we were all very hopeful he would sign it," Nelson said. "It's good policy for Utah children."
School grading bill
The governor said he is also getting calls about the school grading bill and is talking with education leaders and lawmakers about what would be a second evaluation system.
"I think the concept everybody agrees with, and that's of grading schools, the accountability, transparency, making sure that we can evaluate correctly the teaching and the school," he said. "Nobody has a difference of opinion on that."
But, Herbert said, he wants "to make sure that the grading system put in place gives us a true evaluation that we can all feel good about and is not a distortion. That seems to be the concern. So I'm looking into that one a little more closely."
Isom said later the school grading bill "is still a bill of concern for us. We're still receiving quite a bit of concern about that bill."
The State School Board was split last week over whether to ask the governor to veto the bill. The board had taken the position that the bill was unnecessary because the state already grades school as part of the federal waiver from No Child Left Behind.
Also Thursday, Herbert said he hopes to have a recommendation in September on whether Utah should accept the Medicaid expansion being offered by the federal government.
An ongoing study commissioned by the state Department of Health on both the costs and benefits on expanding Medicaid is expected to be released prior to the convening of a committee of stakeholders who will analyze the results.
The governor said he expects a half-dozen or more recommendations from the committee "in the next few months" about providing Utahns with better access to health care.
He said he wants to announce his decision at a health care summit set for September.
While Utah is one of only a handful of states that has yet to make a decision on accepting the Medicaid expansion, Herbert said he's taking his time.
"This is a significant step. It's a change of policy and it's a very expensive change," he said. "And so I'm not going to be rushed into this because others have decided to make a leap."
Chevron fuel spill
The governor also had critical words for the most recent Chevron Corp. diesel fuel spill at Willard Bay State park last week, as well as the federal government's role in overseeing the interstate pipeline.
"If anything's been disappointing in this past couple of weeks, it's been this Chevron oil spill," Herbert said. "This is just not acceptable. We need to take a more proactive stance as a state."
He said he wants the state departments of commerce and environmental quality to look at ways to augment the federal government's oversight of the pipeline "so we can stop these spills from happening."
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