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Session changes debated

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Two resolutions proposed for the 2002 general session of the Utah Legislature would allow lawmakers to call themselves into a special session.

Rep. Chad Bennion, R-Murray, and Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, are proposing separate resolutions and will introduce them sometime after the general session begins on Jan. 21.

The proposals come on the heels of an ugly two-week period during which lawmakers were forced to trim $202.5 million from the state's budget. Legislators were peeved that Gov. Mike Leavitt did not call a special session before this month to trim the budget.

At present, only the governor can call a special session of the Legislature, and only he sets the agenda. Changes in the authority to call special sessions require constitutional amendments, which then require voter ratification.

The Constitutional Revision Commission, a panel of legal experts and lawmakers, endorsed Bennion's resolution Friday with two amendments. Hickman did not attend the meeting, and his proposal was not debated.

Bennion's proposal states that only a simple majority of Senate and House members is required to call a special session. Considering current party ratios, Republicans would have unchallenged opportunities to call special sessions because they hold super majorities in both chambers.

"If you have just a majority, you run the risk of excluding both parties," Commission member Michael Peterson said. "Requiring a two-thirds threshold would ensure that special sessions really are special."

Although Bennion doesn't characterize his resolution as a knee-jerk reaction to the governor's actions this fall, members of the commission want to make sure a constitutional amendment carefully considers all angles. The commission voted to recommend the resolution if the requirement were changed to a two-thirds majority.

Commission members also wanted uniformity for the procedure of calling the session, which was unclear from Bennion's resolution. With the commission's suggested amendments, lawmakers would follow the same procedure for assembling a special session as they do to convene a veto-override session.

"This isn't about personalities because people come and go, but (it's about) what is the best policy and what safeguards there are to take action," Bennion said.

Legislators convened two weeks prior to the start of this year's general session to get a head start on an abbreviated general session. They are using the time to preview bills and make preliminary budget decisions for fiscal year 2003.

E-mail: kswinyard@desnews.com