SALT LAKE CITY — Voters got closer Friday to being able to decide whether lawmakers should have the power to call themselves into a special session of the Legislature.
Members of the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee unanimously advanced HJR18, a resolution seeking that power for lawmakers that also would require the support of Utahns in the November election.
The resolution, which has already passed the House 73-1, now goes to the full Senate. Proposed constitutional amendments require two-thirds support of the Legislature.
"This is not something we do lightly," the sponsor of the resolution, House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, told the committee. Wilson said he believes the resolution will be well-received by the public.
Utah is one of only 15 states where lawmakers don't have the authority to call a special session outside of an effort to override vetoes of legislation by the governor, Wilson said.
Otherwise, only the governor has the power to call a special session and also to set the agenda for what legislation can be considered.
That became an issue for lawmakers last year, during their battle with Gov. Gary Herbert over filling the congressional vacancy left when former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican, resigned several months after being re-elected.
Lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to get the governor to call them into special session to establish a special election process. Herbert set up an election that included a primary with candidates who had gathered voter signatures to get on the ballot.
A bill that would allow political parties to nominate candidates and eliminate the voter signature option, HB344, is expected to be heard by the same Senate committee on Monday.
Wilson said his resolution on special sessions of the Legislature would limit those called by lawmakers to 10 days. Special sessions called by the governor can last as long as 30 days.
He said it also spells out how a revenue downturn between the regular annual 45-day session would be handled, requiring the governor to either make across-the-board cuts or bring the Legislature back to balance the budget.
And, Wilson said, the resolution makes it clear that in the event of a natural disaster or something else that destroys the state Capitol, lawmakers could meet in special session somewhere else.