SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns are being asked to decide whether the Legislature should be able to bypass the governor to call itself into special session.
Under the Utah Constitution, that power rests solely with the governor. Legislators say they should have that authority in certain circumstances.
The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution earlier this year calling for a change in the law — Constitutional Amendment C on the Nov. 6 ballot — allowing the Legislature to convene itself in certain situations. Voters must approve amendments to the state constitution.
The proposal came in response to Gov. Gary Herbert refusing to call lawmakers into session to set up a special election to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz last year.
Legislators were frustrated that the governor wouldn't hold a special session to set up the process to replace the Republican congressman, which they contended was their prerogative.
The amendment would allow the Legislature to call itself into special session if two-thirds of the House and Senate agree that convening is necessary because of a fiscal crisis, war, natural disaster or emergency. It also allows the Legislature to hold a special session outside the Capitol if the building isn't available.
The proposal also requires the governor to reduce state spending or convene the Legislature if state expenses exceed revenue for a fiscal year.
House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, sponsored the resolution to get the issue on the ballot.
"It just struck me as odd, increasingly odd, that this co-equal branch of government, being the Legislature, had to get permission from another branch of government to do its job," he said.
Wilson argues that the Legislature is the "voice of the people, and that voice is effectively silenced for more than 10 months of the year. Lawmakers now hold a 45-day annual session and committee meetings during most of the off months.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, opposes the proposed amendment.
There's more and more pressure for the Legislature to become full time, and "any step toward that, I don't like," he said.
"Jokingly, I say we do enough damage in 45 days," he said.
Wilson said if he believed the amendment would move the Legislature toward full time, he would not have proposed it. He said the proposal includes provisions to prevent that.
Hillyard, a 38-year veteran legislator, said he could only think of one time where lawmakers and the governor disagreed over the need for a special session. And the conflict that arose from the Chaffetz situation isn't enough to change the law, he said.17 comments on this story
Wilson said it isn't an issue to say that the Legislature doesn't work well with the governor.
"We work great with Gov. Herbert, and I'm sure we will continue to do that," he said.
Hillyard also argues that special sessions can become "nightmares." Because the sessions are usually called on short notice and last only a day, residents have little time to weigh in and possibly improve proposed legislation.
Wilson said the threshold for lawmakers to call themselves into special session is high.
"I hope that it's very, very rare. I think it will be," he said.