Utah legislators can no longer be selective about which vetoed bills to reconsider.
Generally, special legislative sessions for veto overrides include only those bills that have the support of at least a majority of legislators in a pre-session poll, if not the two-thirds required for the override to pass. Any bills lacking that support, if they are placed on the calender, are circled and not debated.
While any legislator has always been able to attempt to either uncircle or "lift" a vetoed bill for debate, moves which would require a majority of votes, a new rule change will permit any vetoed bills or line items — even those which lack majority support — to be debated.
The rule change was made Tuesday by a joint meeting of the House and Senate rules committees after legislative attorneys advised that not placing all vetoed items on the calender could violate the state constitution.
"I don't like it — if only two people want to reconsider a bill, I don't think we should have to hear it," said Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, who made the motion to change the rule. "But I want to follow the constitution."
Only Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Cottonwood Heights, voted against the rule change, primarily because she worried the provision could turn short-and-sweet override sessions into marathon sessions. Instead, she suggested legislators should consider an amendment to the constitution which would make the current practices legal.
"If (a bill) is on the board, it's open to discussion, and we don't always want long discussions in a veto override session," she said. "There is wisdom in limiting it."
According to the state constitution, an override session can only be called if two-thirds of the members support it in pre-session polls by leaders. Generally, the leaders also will poll their members about specific bills as a supplemental decision-making tool.
While the rule change could have some impact on future override sessions, the effect may be more procedural than practical. Legislative leaders could still place bills on the calender in an order that would ensure that only the bills with wide support are debated, and use other rules — such as recess or adjourn motions — to avoid debate on more controversial bills that lack the two-thirds majority.
Veto override sessions are not often held because legislators are more apt to wait until the next general session to iron out differences with the governor — especially when the governor and legislative majority are from the same party. In the past two decades, there have been just three veto override sessions.
The last session was in 2004, when two vetoes from former Gov. Olene Walker were overturned amidst heavy political posturing from Walker and multiple legislators who were running for governor. During that session, however, the vetoes of bills dealing with parental rights and school vouchers were not even placed on the calendar.