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Utah Legislature unlikely to override guv's gun veto

Published April 13, 2013 6:12 pm

April 19 deadline • Support for an override appears to fall short of two-thirds majority.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Gov. Gary Herbert's veto of a bill that would let adult Utahns carry concealed firearms without a permit will likely stand.

A survey of Utah senators found that, unless minds change between now and the April 19 deadline, support for a veto override will fall short of the two-thirds majority needed to convene an override session.

"I would be surprised if the votes are there for an override session," said Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe. "I could be wrong, but I would sure be surprised."

Okerlund was one of 22 senators who voted during the legislative session for HB76 — touted by supporters as a "constitutional carry" gun law — but said Thursday he would vote against an override session.

"We can deal with this bill or something similar next year," which would mean more time for discussion, Okerlund said. "I'm also leaning toward the philosophy that our concealed-weapons law probably has us in a pretty good place right now."

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, is also opposed to an override, and Sens. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, and Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said they are likely not going to support the override session but haven't made a final decision. All three voted for the bill when it passed the Senate.

"I'm leaning toward no override," Vickers said, "but I haven't made up my mind yet. I've got a few days to think about it."

Bramble said there is a lot of confusion about what the bill does, and people are split on its merits.

"My attitude is, if it's good policy, let's do a better job making the case publicly and bringing it back next session," he said. "I just think with the governor vetoing it, it changes the landscape."

Twenty of the 29 senators would have to express support for overriding the governor's veto on ballots they received Wednesday.

Based on interviews and public statements by 28 of the 29 senators, 11 support an override and nine back the governor's veto. Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, is leaning toward supporting the override. Four — not counting Vickers and Knudson — are undecided and Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, could not be reached.

"It's a principle that I actually support, but an override session when you're only … nine months away from another session? I just don't know," said Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton. "I'm struggling with that decision."

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, declined to say how he planned to vote because he did not want his leadership position to sway the outcome.

To meet the 20-vote threshold to convene the special session, it would require support from all of the undecided senators, plus Van Tassell and Niederhauser, and a change of heart by Vickers and Knudson.

Members of the House, which also would need a two-thirds majority to override Herbert's veto, received their ballots Thursday. Senators were sent ballots earlier.

HB76, sponsored by Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, would change Utah law to allow an adult to carry a concealed, unloaded firearm — one that does not have a bullet in the firing chamber — without a permit.

Currently, an individual must take a training course, pass a background check and obtain a concealed-weapons permit to carry a hidden firearm. Utahns can openly carry an unloaded weapon without a permit.

Herbert vetoed HB76, arguing that the existing concealed-weapons law was effective.

"We've evolved in Utah to have a concealed-weapon-permit requirement, which has served us very well for the last 15 years. In fact it's become a model for the nation," Herbert said during his recent KUED news conference. "I didn't see any compelling reason to change that statute. … I've used the phrase 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.' And so consequently, I think it's not good policy to change."

Dozens of mayors and chiefs of police from around the state encouraged Herbert to veto the measure, as did the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.

Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, Senate sponsor of the bill, sent an email to his colleagues Thursday, urging them to support the veto override and said he is "absolutely committed to it."

Christensen argued that some people are uneasy seeing someone openly carrying a firearm. The change to simply allow gun owners to cover up their weapon would be a good compromise.

"The people who are breaking the law will still break the law and the honest people will be impacted … by not passing the bill," he said. "This is one for the good guys, one for the people. That's how I feel about it."

Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, said his constituents overwhelmingly support the change and "would kill me if I didn't" vote to override.

But Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, said he has heard the opposite sentiment from his constituents.

"My constituents, every one of my city leaders … and my chiefs of police all opposed HB76," he said. "I know there's some very vocal advocates for it and they have their reasoning, but I'm going to support the governor and my mayors and my chiefs of police."

Knudson, who voted for the bill during the session, said feedback has been split down the middle. But with the emotion of the session having passed, he has "had the chance to look at the issue from a little more relaxed perspective" and is leaning toward supporting the governor's veto.

"I think there's some value to what we have on the books already," Knudson said, "so I'm not sure we need to take the step that the law proposes."

If bill backers manage to muster two-thirds support in both the House and Senate, the override session would have to convene by May 13. It would cost taxpayers between $20,000 and $30,000 to pay for the session.

Since becoming governor in 2009, Herbert has vetoed 10 bills. The Legislature overrode his vetoes twice in 2011 — once on a bill that eliminated a state four-day workweek and another that earmarked sales tax revenue for road projects.

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke —

How they're voting

To override Gov. Herbert's veto of HB76, 20 senators would have to vote in favor of the override.

In favor of a veto override (11) •

Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden

Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem

Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork

Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville

Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City

Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain

Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City

Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross

Leaning in favor of an override (1) •

Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden

Undecided (4) •

Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton

Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville

Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton

Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem

Leaning against an override (2) •

Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City

Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City

Opposed to an override (9) •

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City

Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City

Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan

Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay

Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City

Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe

Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights

Others (2) •

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, declined to say how he planned to vote.

Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, could not be reached.