Loud speeches in the Capitol, arguments over money, demonstrations by angry citizens - the Legislature is in session again. But this special session should last only two days instead of the normal 45.
Utah's 104 lawmakers got down to work Wednesday, convening at 11 a.m. and quickly going into Republican and Democratic caucuses to talk about veto overrides, abortion and bonding.Leaders guess few of the crucial votes will be taken Wednesday. They hope to wrap up the session Thursday. "We don't plan on adjourning and coming back - although that could happen. We want to finish this thing," said House Speaker Craig Moody, R-Sandy.
Pro-choice advocates who vehemently oppose Utah's new, tough anti-abortion law passed three months ago planned a rally at the Capitol at noon Wednesday to shout their displeasure at legislators one more time.
Meanwhile, members of the Utah Association of Women and other conservative pro-life organizations will be on hand between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to remind lawmakers that they support the new restrictions on abortion.
Both Republican and Democratic legislative leaders predict any repeal vote will fail.
While abortion will grab the headlines, it's really state bonding that brings lawmakers into special session. In the waning minutes of the 1991 general session, senators and House members couldn't agree on a bonding package for next year. Gov. Norm Bangerter promised to call them into special session in April to adopt a borrowing plan for next year.
In the meantime, the American Civil Liberties Union and other pro-choice groups said that a 1983 amendment to Utah's homicide statute would allow prosecution for murder of a woman getting an illegal abortion.
Bangerter and legislative leaders say that's bunk, that the amendment did just the opposite, excluding abortions from homicide statutes. But the governor agreed to place abortion on the special session agenda to clear up the matter.
That opens the abortion debate again, with at least one House Democrat, Rep. Haynes Fuller, D-Eden, saying he'll seek repeal of the new, controversial law.
Besides the abortion-related amendments sought by Bangerter - which will likely be adopted - Sen. Scott Howell, D-Salt Lake, wants to amend the new abortion law to provide confidentiality for rape and incest victims who can legally get abortions during the first trimester under the new law. Howell is concerned that in reporting a rape- or incest-caused pregnancy, police records available to the public would show the woman sought an abortion under the law's special exceptions.
Says Howell, "Whether a woman gets an abortion or not, it should not be public." Under his suggested amendments, the woman could ask a judge to seal her request, keeping it private. Howell and the other nine Democrats in the Senate voted against the abortion bill, some doing so because they weren't allowed even to introduce Howell's amendment. "With this amendment, I could support the bill," Howell said.
A major item that won't be considered by Bangerter and Republicans during the session is more funding for human services. Advocates for the poor, elderly, ill and handicapped say Bangerter and the majority Republicans shouldn't be spending $85 million on new buildings, water and road projects when many of Utah's less fortunate suffer because of reduced social programs.
"I have no more revenue today than I did before (when the budget was adopted)," Bangerter said Tuesday.
For fiscal 1991-92, state revenues are projected to increase 6 percent to 7 percent. The health department got a 15.35 percent increase in general fund revenues, the governor said, and the human services department got a 14.54 percent increase.
"Those are double what the average growth in revenues were. Unfortunately, federal mandates pushed much of the (state's) money into Medicare and Medicaid match. Those mandates are eating us alive. I can't print money, and Congress shouldn't be printing it either."
One budget item that is expected to be considered at the governor's request is allowing Attorney General Paul Van Dam to start spending the $100,000 put in next year's budget for the abortion law's defense.
Van Dam, who has been criticized by several lawmakers for hiring the law firm of former Gov. Calvin Rampton - a Democrat - to defend the legislation, declined to discuss his chances of getting the money early.
"I'm inclined to say nothing," the attorney general said. "I don't want to be perceived as being unduly concerned."
Up for debate
- An $85 million bonding bill for fiscal 1992.
- Amendments to the state's homicide and new anti-abortion laws making it clear that women who get abortions aren't criminally liable.
- Clarification of Utah Transit Authority taxing ability in Tooele County.
- Postponing implementation date on automobile salvage law.
- Overrides of at least two bills, and maybe more, vetoed by Gov. Norm Bangerter after the 1991 general session adjourned the end of February.- More funding for human services programs.
- Review of a controversial loan of $10 million to large businesses - specifically McDonnell Douglas - to encourage business expansion.
- Approving the Utah Fair Housing Act, which includes changes required by the federal government to the Fair Housing Act passed two sessions ago as well as $41,000 to set up an office to investigate discrimination complaints.