More on Legislature, A6.Directly addressing the most emotional issue of the newly convened Utah Legislature, Gov. Norm Bangerter told legislators Monday night he'll veto any abortion bill that doesn't meet constitutional muster.
But the question remains, exactly what will the governor accept? "He'll have more to say about that later. Let's say they (legislators) will know well before any bill reaches his desk whether he'll veto it or sign it," said Bud Scruggs, Bangerter's chief of staff.It's very unusual for a Utah governor to threaten a veto before a bill passes the House and Senate and goes to him for his consideration.
"I'm going to now do something I have never done as governor, and I do not do it lightly," Bangerter said in his State of the State address broadcast live on local TV stations. "But I must now tell you that if you pass any bill that doesn not meet these (constitutional) criteria for (abortion) exceptions and requires us to advance an indefensible legal position, I will veto it."
The governor was interrupted by applause at this point, some legislators clearly pleased with his tough stand. "I will not put this state through a painful public debate and a series of expensive trials for a bill that in my judgment does not properly address this issue," Bangerter said.
It's a tough call for Bangerter, who has already announced he won't seek a third term in 1992. Even though he threatened a veto, it's not completely clear what he will and will not accept. In his address, Bangerter specifically didn't refer to the prefiled anti-abortion bill adopted by the Abortion Task Force, a group of legislators and citizens who studied abortion law and held public hearings last year.However, it's just as clear that his message was meant for the sponsors of thatbill. Bangerter and Scruggs have privately told media reporters and legislative leaders that Bangerter doesn't believe the task force bill, as written, can stand up in the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Our position differs, I believe, in only one aspect from the governor's," said Rep. Evan Olsen, R-Young Ward, co-sponsor of the task force's bill.
The task force bill would restrict abortions to cases of rape or incest, properly reported, where the life of the mother was in danger and in cases where the unborn child was so badly deformed that it couldn't survive birth.
"That difference is `health' of the mother,' " said Olsen. Olsen said he personally is willing to look at amending his bill, co-sponsored by Sen. LeRay McAllister, R-Provo, to include "health of the mother."
"But," warned Olsen, "we have to narrowly define `health of the mother.' We'll see what negotiations and committee amendments bring. If it (the definition of health of the mother) gets too broad, we'll back up to the original task force bill," said Olsen. He doesn't want "health of the mother" to be a catch-all phrase that allows abortions for any reason a pregnant woman may put forward.
There are about 4,300 abortions in Utah each year. Officials say the task force bill would eliminate about all of those abortions. Bangerter argued in his speech that passing an unconstitutional bill won't save any unborn children - "not one" - since it will be immediately struck down in federal court.
Bangerter spent a good portion of his State of the State speech on abortion. He wrestled with the abortion language for several days, the final draft of the speech not being finished until late Monday afternoon.
"Our God-given impulses to protect those least capable of defending themselves do indeed have a place in crafting legislation," Bangerter said. But the desire to protect the unborn must be tempered by two important considerations - the limited cases in which a woman ought to have the abortion option and what next step the U.S. Supreme Court is willing to take in allowing states to control abortions.
Even though Bangerter wants to tighten abortion law, after watching the gut-wrenching argument over abortion in the Idaho Legislature last year, (Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus eventually vetoed a very strict anti-abortion bill) he decided such a fight should be avoided in Utah if possible.
Thus, the veto warning. "We don't want Idaho all over again here," said Scruggs. "We want to talk compromise. The governor's position will be very clear before any bill comes to his office."
While the abortion issue may have stolen the limelight, Bangerter talked about a number of other important issues that will be before lawmakers the next 44 days.
-The most important issue before lawmakers is concern for Utah's children, whether it's protecting them from drugs or abuse, or educating them adequately.
-A tough property tax question, which could cost the state's school fund $23 million, must be settled without raising taxes on homeowners, Bangerter told an applauding Legislature.
-Utah's poor and disabled must be treated fairly and compassionately. Toward that end, Bangerter proposes a new $3 million program to help buy health insurance for those who can't qualify for private health coverage.
-A new Department of Environmental Quality should be formed and economic development pursued, he said. "Economic growth brings with it certain challenges, and it is neither wise nor necessary to sacrifice our environment in the process. The public demands we give (environmental quality) the attention it deserves and the future depends on it," Bangerter said.
-Good strides have been made in raising teacher pay in Utah, the governor said. In addition, statewide testing of students has, for the first time, given teachers, students and parents a yardstick to judge Utah's public education. Bangerter asks for $4 million to reduce class size in the 1st grade. Next year, he'll ask for a similar amount to reduce class size in 2nd grade. Ultimately, the governor wants class size reduced in all elementary school levels.