This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Faced with picking through more draft laws than any governor in recent memory, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. found just a handful of bills lacking.
As his last day to consider lawmakers' work during the 2006 Legislature wound down, Huntsman on Tuesday ultimately rejected three bills: one that would have required green groups to post a bond before filing an environmental lawsuit, another that would have cut the courts out of child custody and visitation decisions, and legislation that would have allowed colleges to charge high school students taking college-level courses partial tuition. The governor also vetoed the so-called "Envirocare Bill" three weeks ago.
Huntsman said the four bills he panned were unfair, could result in unintended consequences or were unconstitutional.
Deputy Chief of Staff Mike Mower said the governor was selective.
"There's a role for the Governor's Office to play - and that's to review all the bills. It's a very small number," Mower said. "Hopefully lawmakers will agree with the governor's decisions."
Although two of the bills are close to many lawmakers' hearts, legislators are likely to let Huntsman's vetoes stand. House and Senate leaders will poll lawmakers to determine support for an override session in the next few weeks. Lawmakers have 60 days to reinstate the laws.
"A few lawmakers may be frustrated," said House Speaker Greg Curtis. "But the governor has a big vote in the end."
Only one of the bills - the legislation requiring environmental litigation bonds - passed both houses with a veto-proof, two-thirds majority. But critics all along have been calling HB100 "unconstitutional."
The bill would have required businesses and nonprofits to post a bond before appealing roads and bridges or other new construction projects on environmental grounds. It was aimed at groups like the Sierra Club, which sued to force environmental review of the Legacy Highway in Davis County. Rep. Aaron Tilton, R-Springville, said it would have prevented frivolous environmental lawsuits and won support for it from U.S. Republican Reps. Chris Cannon, Rob Bishop and former GOP congressman Jim Hansen.
In his veto letter signed Tuesday, Huntsman said he worried the bill would violate the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause and similar provisions in the Utah Constitution by undermining the authority of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, Atomic Energy Act of 1964 and 20 other federal laws named in the legislation.
"I consider this bill pre-empted by federal law and therefore cannot allow it to take effect," Huntsman said.
Some lawmakers have similar concerns. Questions raised by the Environmental Protection Agency have made Senate President John Valentine doubt the popular legislation that he voted for. Legislative leaders plan to ask their attorneys to review the bill.
"I'm not going to vote to override in a situation where we could create a problem for ourselves," Valentine said.
Tilton, however, is undeterred. "We're going to seek an override vote," he said.
The governor also took issue with HB148, a bill intended to define the long-standing legal principle of "in loco parentis." Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, drafted the legislation in response to a still-pending custody battle between two Utah lesbians. A 3rd District Court judge awarded Keri Jones visitation with the 4-year-old girl she and her former partner, Cheryl Barlow, had raised together. Utah Supreme Court justices are still reviewing the case.
Christensen's legislation would effectively block courts from awarding child custody or visitation based on the "best interests" of the child, leaving such decisions up to biological parents exclusively. Under the bill, step-parents and grand-parents who have raised children would have no recourse. The governor's office has been bombarded by calls for and against the bill.
Sean Joyce is a step-father caught in a custody battle with his estranged wife. He was there for his 6-year-old step-daughter's first birthday and every one since. He considered adopting, but his wife always resisted. They have been separated for more than a year and a half. The divorce has not been finalized because Joyce insists on having court-ordered visitation; his wife has balked. He now sees the girl four hours a week.
"She calls me 'Daddy,' " Joyce said. "She wants to know when she can come over and spend the night again. What can I tell her?"
The governor said he worried about the legislation's "unintended consequences."
"Once a biological or adoptive parent has allowed a third party to participate actively in the parenting of a child to such a degree that the third party is deemed to be standing in loco parentis, the third party's rights with respect to the child cannot unilaterally be terminated by a parent," he wrote.
At the same time, Huntsman urged legislators to come back with similar legislation written more precisely. He promised to sign any bill that would not pose such far-reaching ramifications.
The governor also rejected legislation that would have allowed colleges and universities to charge about 25,000 high school students partial tuition for college-level course offered in public schools. HB 151 set public education and higher education leaders at odds. Lawmakers set aside $2.3 million this session to fund concurrent enrollment classes.
Huntsman said the funding and legislation were redundant and could discourage students from taking such courses.
* HB100: Required a bond for environmental lawsuits aimed at blocking projects.
* HB148: Aimed at gay couples in custody battles but stepparents and grandparents could be affected.
* HB151: Allowed colleges to charge high school students tuition for concurrent enrollment.