SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Citing concerns about potential civil rights violations, Gov. Gary Herbert has vetoed a bill - spurred by lawmakers’ investigation of former Attorney General John Swallow - that would have strengthened the Legislature’s subpoena power.
Herbert said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon that he was concerned the legislation barred an individual from challenging the subpoena in a court. It instead stipulated that the person had to appeal to a legislative review committee, unless the subpoena sought information that is constitutionally protected or privileged.
If someone tried to appeal the subpoena in a court, the person could be subject to criminal penalties.
“I think it’s an overreach,” Herbert said, noting it would deny people their right to due process.
The bill was one in a series created after the Republican-controlled Utah House investigated Swallow, also a Republican.
Legislators were diving into allegations surrounding Swallow, who cited the toll of that investigation and others when he resigned late last year. He has denied wrongdoing, including accusations he offered protection to several businessmen in return for favors.
Legislators wrapped up their roughly $4 million fact-finding probe after Swallow stepped down.
Investigators working for the special legislative investigative committee said they spent thousands of taxpayer dollars last year fighting in court to enforce subpoenas with several individuals and companies as part of their probe.
Herbert said he understands the frustration felt by the committee, but the proposal went too far.
“Sometimes democracy and due process is messy,” Herbert said. “But we don’t want to violate somebody’s civil rights.”
Herbert said the bill did not have enough discussion or public debate. The legislation was introduced on Feb. 26, but it was substituted for a new bill the day before legislators adjourned for the year. The original version did not penalize someone for challenging a subpoena in court.
Taylorsville Republican Rep. Jim Dunnigan, who chaired the investigative committee and sponsored the bill, disagreed with people who say the bill didn’t get enough discussion.
He said Wednesday that the bill, though it was tweaked, was voted on by committees and the full chamber in both the House and Senate, in addition to discussions in his investigative committee.
Dunnigan also said the bill gave a person a chance to argue against a subpoena in court because it allowed legislators to pursue penalties there.
“We think it’s needed,” he said. “We think it’s the right policy. But there are some tweaks that need to be made.”
Dunnigan said he tried to work with Herbert and attorneys to find a way to address the issues in the future while letting the bill become law now, but that agreement wasn’t reached.
He said that legislators may take up the issue if there’s a special session called for other reasons, or they may deal with it next January when they convene for their regular session.
Legislative leaders said late Wednesday that they would poll lawmakers to see if they wanted to convene for an override session. Two-thirds of the members of each legislative body must vote for the session. A decision is expected by April 14.
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