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June special session looms

Leavitt aides say mistakes in budget must be corrected

A June special legislative session is needed to fix mistakes in the state budget, including an error that would deprive local police of $3.2 million in DUI enforcement, aides to Gov. Mike Leavitt said Monday.

Tuesday night is Leavitt's deadline to sign or veto the nearly 400 bills passed by lawmakers during their annual 45-day session, which ended March 5. The governor has between 60 and 100 bills left to sign and was to be finished Monday.

Leavitt believes there is a problem with SB66, a bill that deals with the higher tax on beer that was supposed to send the money for DUI enforcement, said Leavitt spokeswoman Natalie Gochnour. For years lawmakers were skimming beer tax money away from DUI enforcement and sending it off to other programs.

Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, sponsored SB66 — which hikes the beer tax from $11 a barrel to $12.80 a barrel — earmarking a portion of the money for a special account for distribution to local DUI efforts.

Unfortunately, he said, the bill failed to provide a mechanism for the transfer of funds.

"I understood it was supposed to happen automatically, but it did not. We just didn't finish the job evidently."

Gochnour said the bill "will have to be fixed in a special session."

Likewise, the special session will have to transfer $7 million from the Uniform School Fund to the state's general fund. "There was a mistake in the general appropriations act, and that money went to the wrong fund," said Gochnour. The error would leave the fiscal 2004 budget out of balance, she added.

Leavitt has already said he planned a summer special session — only the governor can call lawmakers into session outside of their annual general session — to decide if the state will sell the quasi-public Workers Compensation Fund. Discovery of the recent budget problems will require that session in June, before the new fiscal year starts July 1.

Leavitt will also veto several bills, but it is questionable whether any of them rise to the importance of lawmakers calling themselves into a veto override session. Last year legislators overrode one of Leavitt's

vetoes, the first time that has happened to Leavitt in 11 years in office. By law, legislative leaders must poll their members on each vetoed bill to see if there is enough support to call themselves back into a veto override session.

Among bills on the chopping block:

HB168 by Rep. Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake. The bill takes the governor's power to appoint someone to fill the unexpired term of a legislator who dies or resigns and gives that appointment authority to the speaker of the House for representatives and president of the Senate for a senator.

Becker says his bill originally just changed some technical appointment procedures, "but it was hijacked" by Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan, and other lawmakers who amended it to take away Leavitt's legislative appointment power. "I didn't object (to the amendment)," said Becker. "I don't mind if there is an override. But as Democrats, we're always going to only send up one name to the Republicans — whether speaker or governor — to fill one of our vacancies because we don't want them picking which Democrat gets to serve."

"The governor believes the bill tilts the balance of power" between the executive and legislative branches of government "in a way that is not helpful to the process," said Gochnour.

House Speaker Marty Stephens said the Becker bill may be one leaders of both parties in the House and Senate may take a look at to see if there's support for an override. "I'll be interested in (Leavitt's) reasons for vetoing it. If it is just a separation-of-powers issue, with no other concerns, then I think there may be bipartisan support to look at (a veto override)," he said.

HB105 by Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan. The bill deals with Internet privacy requirements. Gochnour said while Leavitt supports its goals, the bill "places too many mandates on Internet providers and on state government's own Web sites." "It would cost too much money" to the providers for those protections. "More study is needed on how to do this," she said.

SB251 by Sen. Bev Evans, R-Altamont. Actually, said Gochnour, Evans asked Leavitt to veto her own bill after it was determined that amendments placed in the measure toward the end of the session harms her efforts. The bill was meant to strengthen law enforcement's ability to arrest and charge people who fire guns from vehicles. But amendments "made the burdens of proof too high," said Gochnour.