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Utah lawmakers override 3 vetoes in balance of power debate

SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers voted to override three bills that had been vetoed by Governor Gary Herbert.

One of the bills was SB 171, which gives the legislature the right to voice their concerns in lawsuits that are filed against the state.  House Sponsor, Merrill Nelson, says they currently could only ask a judge to be heard in any given case.

“A court could decline and say, ‘No, we don’t want to hear from the legislature,” says Nelson.

Nelson and his supporters say there are times when the Attorney General might not defend certain laws, and would leave the legislature’s interests unprotected.

He adds, “If we perceive that our interest and perspectives may not be fully or adequately presented by the Attorney General, we can intervene in the case with our own legal counsel.”

There was some pointed debated, but, the bill eventually sailed through both chambers, easily.  However, there was some pushback from a former supporter.  Senator Todd Weiler had voted for the bill, originally, but changed his mind.  He’s concerned that the bill gives the legislature no power in federal courts and he believes many plaintiffs will simply file their suits in at the federal level.

Weiler says, “Federal court cases go slower, they typically cost more and we lose some of that control.”

A spokesman for Governor Gary Herbert’s office issued a statement, saying, “Clearly, the governor and the legislature disagree about the appropriate roles and functions of their respective branches of state government.  We would encourage the legislature to intervene in a court case as soon as possible so that Utah courts can quickly resolve these important constitutional issues.”

Lawmakers also voted to override a line item veto in HB 3, which would allocate funding needed for SB 171.  Plus, the override of the veto on HB 198 passed, easily.  That bill would require the Attorney General to provide legal opinions for the legislature when they call for one.