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Huntsman won’t call session till he has to

He’s to set date for referendum election on school vouchers

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Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said Tuesday that he is in no hurry to call lawmakers into special session to set a Feb. 5 date for a referendum election on school vouchers.

"I'm not going to call it a day before I need to," Huntsman told the Deseret Morning News by telephone from Toronto, Canada, where he is a leading a three-day trade mission set to end today.

Legislative leaders have said they'd like to see the special session held as part of lawmakers' regular interim day on May 16. But Huntsman said he's not going to rush, because he's "still reliving the nightmares" from last year's three special sessions.

He'll have to wait until next Monday anyway to know if the referendum to repeal a bill establishing the state's new school voucher program qualifies for a spot on a general election ballot.

That's the deadline for Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert to certify that enough valid signatures were collected by opponents of the program to use tax dollars to help parents pay for private school tuition. Huntsman said Herbert will hold a press conference Monday to announce his finding.

The governor said he'll place only two items on the special session agenda, "clearing the way" legally for the referendum question to go before voters during the Feb. 5 presidential primary and revisiting Henry's bill, a proposal to make some cases of animal abuse a felony.

Although some lawmakers are already talking about possible changes to the animal cruelty bill named for a dog abused by his owner's now ex-husband, Huntsman said he believes there's enough interest to bring it back.

The bill, sponsored by Senate Minority Whip Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, failed to pass after the House added a minor amendment near the end of this year's general session, so that the Senate didn't have time to act.

"I think there is support," Huntsman said of the bill. If that bill were law, it would have allowed the man responsible for blinding Henry in one eye with a leaf blower and burning him in a 200-degree oven to be charged with a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

Last year, the governor asked lawmakers to reconsider another issue they didn't get to during the 2006 Legislature — funding for emergency dental care for the blind and disabled. But lawmakers rejected Huntsman's request for $2 million.

The governor said he consulted with legislative leaders before deciding to ask lawmakers to deal with Henry's bill in what will be this year's first special session. "I didn't make it in a vacuum," Huntsman said of his decision.

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com