Marriage Fee Bill Dead…For Now

Senator Allen Christensen (Republican – Ogden) may have received a sign that things would not go well during his third and final presentation of SB 29 – Utah Marriage Commission Amendments when his microphone violently cut in and out at the start of his speech, disturbing the Senate Chamber.

The legislation would add a $20 fee to all marriage licenses in the state of Utah to help fund the Utah Marriage Commission; couples could recoup the $20 fee if they attended marriage training classes up to 90 days after receiving the marriage license. Democrats raised doubts about the bill on Friday, complaining that the legislation exempted religious organizations from having to meet state minimums when counseling young couples – in essence treating secular couples at a different standard. But Christensen was able to fend off those attacks, successfully passing the bill on second reading by a vote of 17-12, allowing a third and final vote the next business day.

For all practical purposes, the second vote is the deciding vote – it is the vote where most debate traditionally takes place, and it generally mirrors the third and final vote, which is often little more than a formality. This was not the case Monday.

Christensen, who is also the Senate Chair of the Social Services Appropriations Committee, may have wanted to spend more time in presenting the bill before the final tally. Instead, he simply said that “this is just my ounce of prevention bill to see if we can’t cut down a little bit on the costs that it is costing my Social Services [Appropriations Committee] to fix the things after the families are broken up,” and sat down as the votes started to come in.

It is rare for a bill to die on the floor, it is even rarer for a bill to die in the way that SB 29 did.

As the votes came rolling in, it was clear that it was going to be close after Senators Lincoln Fillmore (Republican – South Jordan) and Wayne Harper (Republican – Taylorsville) switched their vote between Friday and Monday. The President of the Senate, Wayne Niederhauser (Republican – Sandy), generally votes last on all bills, however, any senator may change their vote before the vote officially closes.

After Niederhauser voted yes, making the vote 15-13, Senator Howard Stephenson (Republican – Draper) flipped his vote from yes to no. This would tie the vote 14-14. Soon after Senator Curt Bramble (Republican – Provo) would switch his vote to no as well. Though Bramble may have had a legitimate change of heart, the no vote would also mean that the final vote would have been 13-15. As with any vote, one member of the prevailing side (in this case the no votes) could move to reconsider the bill for a vote at a later time. As Senator Peter Knudson (Republican – Brigham City), who voted in favor of the bill on Friday, was excused for the day and not available to cast a presumed yes vote. Bramble could,

As Senator Peter Knudson (Republican – Brigham City), who voted in favor of the bill on Friday, was excused for the day and not available to cast a presumed yes vote. With the correct headcount, Bramble could reopen the vote (having been on the victorious side), change his vote back to yes, and, along with the extra vote gained by Knudson, actually pass the bill 15-14.

If and when Bramble gets his proper headcount, he will need to move quickly to reopen the bill for consideration and make sure he has his 15 votes at the time – but, for now, it appears that SB 29 is dead.

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