Gov. Mike Leavitt had a busy evening Tuesday; one hour cheering the Utes toward victory at the NCAA's Final Four tournament, the next hour putting the last-minute kibosh on several bills passed by the 1998 Legislature.
So while the University of Utah basketball team Wednesday boarded planes bound for San Antonio, at least one disappointed lawmaker began to lobby for a veto override session."I talked to (House Speaker Mel Brown) this morning," said Rep. Glenn Way, R-Spanish Fork. "We're definitely going to push for an override session."
Some of Leavitt's action, taken just before a midnight deadline, was expected - much of it was not:
- A state agency will not get $75,000 to help fight a lawsuit over the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.
- Farmington's Lagoon amusement park will not get a sales tax exemption after all.
- Officials will have to find another way to boost voter turnout for bond elections. A bill would have paired bond election decisions with other bigger election dates.
- The governor will maintain power and control over a council that watches federal policies and how they affect Utah. Leavitt vetoed a bill that would have given more council representation to local governments and shrank the size of the council.
Leavitt had until midnight Tuesday to sign bills, veto them, or let legislation become law without his signature.
Just before his midnight deadline, he vetoed seven of 458 bills passed by lawmakers. Way sponsored two of the seven bills vetoed.
The governor also allowed seven bills to become law without his signature - action that typically signals some discomfort with the legislation but not enough to warrant a veto.
HB414, sponsored by Way, would have given $75,000 to the Utah State and Institutional Trust Lands Administration to support litigation against the 1996 creation by President Clinton of the Escalante Monument.
But in a written statement, Leavitt said the bill would give money toward a lawsuit in which the state isn't a direct party.
"The appropriation is unnecessary to defend the interests of the state and would simply benefit other plaintiffs in the suit," Leavitt wrote.
In a late-night telephone call to Way's home, the governor said he wanted to stand firm on this policy. "But the Legislature has a right to have a policy (separate from the governor's)," Way said Wednesday. "This is 100 percent a states' rights issue."
The Legislature would need to call itself into a veto-override session to deal with Leavitt's vetoes. Way said he will encourage his colleagues in the Senate to support the session.
Leavitt vetoed no Senate bills, so it is unlikely that Utah senators would support this. Still, Way called Speaker Mel Brown, R-Union, to get his support first thing Wednesday. "There are quite a few bills we're frustrated with.
Brown was not available for comment Wednesday.
Talk of a veto override is part of the process, Leaviit said Wednesday. "The issue is very clear to me," the governor said. "The issue is about whether it's appropriate to spend state dollars on something the state is not party to."
Trust lands administration officials said they understand the governor's actions during these tight budgetary times.
"The trust lands administration has adequate budget to cover our costs in the litigation for the foreseeable future, so we will go forward with this," said James D. Cooper, assistant director of the trust lands administration.
Leavitt vetoed a handful of other bills for various reasons:
- One would have revamped the governor's Constitutional Defense Council. The bill would have ousted Leavitt's appointees, replaced them with representatives from Utah counties and put the council exclusively in charge of the panel's $50,000 annual appropriation.
Leavitt said he generally has no trouble with the idea of assisting counties with lawsuits that are winnable and in the state's interest. With the bill sponsored by Rep. Dennis Iverson, R-Washington, the state might eventually find itself the target of a lawsuit backed by the state-funded council.
- Another bill said special legislative sessions should not be scheduled on the date of legislative interim meetings. Leavitt said having special sessions on those days was an important time- and money-saving option.
- A bill that would have established uniform dates for bond elections was vetoed on the grounds that it would inhibit entry into the bond markets at the most beneficial times.
- Regarding Lagoon, Leavitt vetoed a bill that would have given the Davis County amusement park a sales-tax break on machinery and electricity. The governor said it narrowed the tax base and "also creates more unfairness in our tax structure as only one company would receive this exemption."
- Another bill would have changed the law intended to inhibit unfair marketing practices in the retail sales of ice cream. Leavitt said it "potentially allows large ice-cream manufacturers and distributors to monopolize freezer space in retail establishments."
- Leavitt vetoed a bill regarding business names because it had technical problems, such as unintentionally preventing a banking and trust company from using the word "trust" in its name.
Among the bills Leavitt allowed to go into law without his signature was one that requires tobacco products be kept out of the easy reach of juvenile shoplifters. The bill was controversial because it also pre-empted local governments from enacting more stringent regulation of tobacco.