SALT LAKE CITY — Will Gov. Gary Herbert's veto of a bill dealing with filling unexpected congressional vacancies be overridden by Utah lawmakers or will his action spur a deal?
A poll of state lawmakers is expected to get underway this week to determine if there's enough support to consider calling an override session of the Legislature before the May 13 deadline.
But at the same time, there's also an effort by the governor and GOP legislative leaders to come with compromise legislation on the controversial topic that would make a vote to override SB123 unnecessary.
"We have to resolve this problem," Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said, whether or not the required two-thirds of lawmakers in both the House and Senate agree to an override session.
Adams said it's not clear the Senate can meet that threshold, so a better solution might be to see if he, the governor and House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, can find common ground on new legislation.
"Let's have talks and we'll see," the Senate leader said.
House Majority Whip Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, said the veto cannot stand.
"The hope is to maybe come together and have some sort of a compromise with the governor. But if not, I hope there's a veto override," Schultz said. "We've got to do something. We've got to get the congressional elections process put into statute."
He said it's the Legislature's job, not the governor's, to put together that process, and it needs to get done one way or the other.
"I know the president, the speaker and the governor, they're talking," Schultz said. "I think it's important we have something sooner than later. So if there can't be an agreement that comes together, I'll certainly push through a veto override."
The sponsor of SB123, Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, said he preferred to see his bill prevail but had no idea whether there will be an override session or compromise legislation that could be approved in a special legislative session.
"Everyone feels like we need a process and conversations are ongoing," McCay said.
His bill sets up an abbreviated process for electing a replacement to fill a congressional vacancy that occurs between elections and passed the Senate with a vote of 19-8, one vote shy of the two-thirds needed for an override.
The House approved the bill 52-10, two votes beyond the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. Of course, even if enough lawmakers agree there should at least be an override session, they may vote differently on the bill.
The governor took issue with the bill because he said it "significantly limits participation and choice in elections to fill vacancies" in the U.S. House, limiting "the ability of Utah voters to choose their congressional representatives."
Herbert's office had no comment on the compromise talks.
SB123 eliminates the signature-gathering process for getting on a primary ballot that the Utah GOP sued the state over and lost. Instead, the bill calls for political party delegates in the congressional district to advance two candidates to the ballot.
What to do when one of Utah's four representatives in Congress resigns became an issue in 2017, when then-Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, announced he was stepping down from his seat just months after his re-election.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers cried foul when the governor set up a special election to fill the 3rd Congressional District vacancy without calling the Legislature back into session to approve the process.
The governor's process included allowing candidates to gather voter signatures rather than competing for delegate support through the traditional caucus and convention nominating system.
The alternate route to the ballot was put in place in 2014 by a law still referred to as SB54 that has split the state Republican Party. Lawmakers argued that in the case of a special congressional election, allowing signature-gathering took too much time.
The winner of the 2017 election to fill Chaffetz's seat, Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, chose to both collect signatures and compete at convention. He lost the delegate vote, but won both the primary and general elections. He was re-elected last year.
Rich McKeown, co-executive chairman of Count My Vote, said there has been a “consistent attack and erosion” on SB54, even after the U.S. Supreme Court declined earlier this year to hear the lawsuit attempting to undo it.
Lawmakers tried to circumvent the signature gathering option with SB123, he said, an option created as a compromise with backers of the 2014 Count My Vote initiative that would have established a direct primary election.4 comments on this story
McKeown also questioned how much support there still is for SB123 at this point.
“I think based on our tallies and counts they’ll not be a sufficient number to override that veto,” he told the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards earlier this month. “I’m not even sure they’ll give it a shot given the numbers.”
Results of the poll on whether to hold an override session are expected late next week or early the following week. By law, an override session must be called within 60 days of the end of the general session.
Contributing: Dennis Romboy