Lawmakers on Wednesday threw down the gauntlet to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who now must decide whether he'll veto what legislators call a "separation of powers" bill.

By more than a two-thirds vote — which is needed to override a threatened gubernatorial veto — House members passed SB144, a bill that would require Huntsman to get legislative approval before he enters into any interstate agreement that could cost the state more than $50,000.

Huntsman told the Deseret Morning News last week that he would veto SB144 if it came to his desk. And Huntsman's spokeswoman, Lisa Roskelley, said Wednesday afternoon that the governor's position "remains the same" — in other words, he will probably veto the measure.

Now it will go to his desk, since the bill has already passed the Senate. SB144 also passed the Senate by more than a two-thirds vote.

Once the bill officially goes to Huntsman's office, because the Legislature is still in session, he'll have 10 days to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature. If he vetoes it, it looks like legislators will still have time before their March 5 adjournment to take an override veto vote.

If both houses vote to override with more than two-thirds vote, the bill will become law.

While legislative Republicans deny it, others see SB144 as a reaction to Huntsman's very public decision last year to stand with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on an interstate climate change agreement.

Schwarzenegger is seen as a liberal Republican, especially on environmental issues, and a number of Utah Republicans were not happy to see Huntsman agreeing to the climate initiative.

But Rep. Kevin Garn, R-Layton, the House sponsor of SB144, told representatives Wednesday that he knew of no new interstate agreements that led to the bill.

"Hasn't the governor had for years this same power to make these agreements?" Rep. Neil Hansen, D-Ogden, asked. "What has brought it to a head now?"

It's just that the legislative branch of government has to protect its constitutional functions, said Garn.

Sponsor Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said he amended his bill to include the $50,000 threshold as an accommodation to Huntsman.

But Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, said she fears that money may be wasted in having to call the Legislature into a special session to authorize various relatively minor interstate agreements.


E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com