Mar 21, 2024 - Politics

Utah governor signs controversial coal plant, Salt Lake County DA measures

Photo illustration of Utah Governor Spencer Cox with lines radiating from him.

Photo Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Office of Governor Spencer J. Cox

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) on Thursday signed controversial bills requiring the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office to track time spent on criminal cases and another to keep a coal plant running.

State of play: Thursday was the deadline for the governor to sign or veto measures from a record-breaking 2024 session that sent 591 bills to his desk.

  • Overall, he signed 555 of the bills into law and vetoed seven largely non-controversial measures.

Friction point: Democrats decried the time-tracking bill for solely targeting Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, a Democrat, accusing Republicans of "playing politics."

  • The bill would also establish a process for the Utah Supreme Court to appoint a replacement prosecutor if the governor determines the county's prosecutor failed or refused to "adequately prosecute crimes."
  • The measure's co-sponsor House Majority Whip Karianne Lisonbee (R-Syracuse) defended the measure, alleging it was a response to crimes not being prosecuted in Salt Lake County.

Flashback: This was the first time Cox has used his veto powers since 2022, when he dramatically bucked his party.

Zoom out: At his monthly news conference on Thursday, Cox told reporters his greatest concern this session was the "sheer number of bills" passed by lawmakers.

  • "We start to see the quality suffer a little bit," he said.
  • "Just like there are meetings that could be emails, sometimes there are bills that could be phone calls," Cox wrote in his veto letter to legislative leaders.

Some pieces of legislation that he vetoed could be accomplished without enacting a new law, he added.

  • One vetoed measure, for example, sought to create a cybersecurity training program for the executive branch staffers that already exists.

What we're watching: The first-term governor is running for reelection this year and faces former Utah Republican Chair Carson Jorgensen and state Rep. Phil Lyman (R-Blanding) in the GOP primary.

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