Gov. Herbert vetoes special election bill, signs 18-week abortion ban and 118 other bills

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Gov. Gary Herbert gets the Senate to sing happy birthday to his wife Jeanette, at right, during concluding remarks on the last day of the Legislative session at the Utah Capitol on Thursday, March 14, 2019.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued his first veto of 2019 on Monday, rejecting a bill that would have created a process for filling congressional vacancies that relies on party delegates and excludes candidates from gathering voter signatures.

In a letter explaining his veto of SB123 to the Utah House speaker and Senate president, Herbert said the bill contains ambiguities and “significantly limits participation and choice” by straying from the state’s dual-track election process created under SB54 in 2014.

“Utah law provides multiple paths to the ballot for partisan elections: a political party convention and signature gathering being the most common,” Herbert wrote. “These options have been embraced by the majority of Utah voters as providing reasonable alternatives to access the ballot.”

Herbert had previously sparred with lawmakers on this topic in the lead-up to the special election to replace then-Rep. Jason Chaffetz after his resignation from Congress in 2017.

State law was silent on how to fill the vacancy, leading Herbert to order an election under the guidelines of SB54 over the objections of legislators who preferred a special session to establish a special election process in law.

“I look forward to working with the Legislature on a congressional vacancy replacement procedure that reflects our general election process,” Herbert wrote.

Bill sponsor Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, did not respond to a request for comment.

SB123 passed the House with 51 votes, one more than a veto-proof majority. But the bill fell one vote short of that threshold in the Senate with the support of 19 senators. Two senators were absent during that vote.

Greg Hartley, the House chief of staff, said Monday the process of polling lawmakers to determine if there is support for a veto override will begin soon.

The veto coincided with the announcement that the governor had signed 119 bills into law, including four bills related to the ballot initiative process and HB136, which prohibits elective abortions in the state after 18 weeks of fetal development.

“Governor Herbert is unapologetically pro-life and believes state lawmakers have chosen an appropriate threshold for protecting the unborn while respecting a woman’s right to choose,” said Paul Edwards, Herbert’s spokesman.

Various Utah organizations have committed to filing court challenges against the law, which narrows the window for elective abortions beyond the federal standard of fetal viability established in the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade.

On Monday, the Planned Parenthood Action Council of Utah reiterated those plans, tweeting that it would join the ACLU of Utah in challenging the “unconstitutional and dangerous" abortion ban enacted by HB136.

“Politicians have no place in the private, medical decisions of Utah women,” the organization wrote.

Other bills signed by Herbert include:

HB71, which clarifies what teachers can say about contraceptives in public school sex education courses.

HB114, which clarifies Utah’s so-called “stand your ground” law to explicitly state that a person need not attempt to retreat from a threat before legally using force against an attacker.

HB133, which delays the implementation of successful ballot initiatives until after the next general session of the state Legislature.

HB145, which creates an ongoing tally of ballot initiative signatures and a rolling deadline for the removal of signatures, with the requirement that signature lists be posted online.

HB148, which lets cities with anti-idling ordinances to offer just one warning, rather than three.

HB195, which changes the required signature threshold for ballot initiatives and prohibits identical initiatives in back-to-back elections.

HB324, which raises the minimum age to purchase tobacco products — with some exceptions — to 21.

SB50, which prohibits an individual from simultaneously holding a county and a municipal elected office.

SB151, which requires that the budget and taxing components of an initiative be listed first on the ballot.