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Utah Legislature passed record number of bills

Published March 26, 2013 1:01 am

Politics • Record 524 measures passed despite House speaker's plea to rein it in.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah legislators just set an all-time record, apparently, for passing bills and resolutions — enacting 524 this year, compared to 478 in 2012 and 504 in 2011.

"We know it is the most passed since 2000," said John Fellows, general counsel in the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel. "It's difficult to run data for earlier years. ... But we assume it was tougher to pass a higher number of bills in past years."

"I almost consider it a black eye on me as president," jokes new Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy. "It highlights for me that we don't want to be in session more than 45 days. ... If we were there longer, we would just pass more bills. And 524 is enough, probably more than enough."

Niederhauser says one reason so many bills passed is that little in-fighting occurred between houses and parties — which is not too surprising since Democrats hold only 18 percent of the seats. Worse for Democrats is that they managed to pass only 6 percent of the bills enacted.

Stated differently, Republicans passed 94 percent of all bills this year — 16 of every 17 — showing how much of a one-party state Utah has become.

A chart showing the number and percentage of bills passed by each legislator is online at sltrib.com.

"We wish our numbers were higher because more voices collectively make for better legislation," said Senate Democratic Whip Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City.

Analysis by The Salt Lake Tribune shows that legislators introduced 748 bills and resolutions this year, and passed 70 percent of them. That averages to five bills per lawmaker.

That happened despite House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, asking members in her opening speech to slow down and consider whether changes are needed before running bills.

She said then that passing normal amounts of legislation would mean "we'll add another 200 pages of [Utah] code to the 200 pages we added last year. That's on top of the thousands and thousands of pages already on the books. Do we really want to keep doing that? Really? Really?"

The answer was apparently yes.

Republicans had especially high rates of success — passing 73 percent of their bills, both by senators and representatives.

That was almost twice as high as the success rate for House Democrats, which was a mere 38 percent. Democrats in the Senate did a bit better, passing 47 percent of their bills.

Lockhart said in an interview that one reason so many bills passed is that interim meetings of the Legislature prepared many measures during the year, so they were ready for quick action when the session began. She says that also helped ensure that bills received adequate, careful consideration.

Despite the huge GOP majority, the bills receive plenty of scrutiny, she says, because "the Republican Party is incredibly diverse" in its views and approaches.

Meanwhile, Democrats say they were treated fairly — despite their lower success rates. "We were given equal access under our rules of engagement," said House Democratic leader Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, noting they were allowed to debate several controversial issues — even if they didn't have the votes to win.

"But we did prevail on a couple that we have been pushing for years and finally won," Seelig said, such as Democratic bills on dating violence and a ban on smoking in cars with children. She says Democrats were also able to include items of importance to them in spending bills, although that doesn't show well in legislative batting averages.

"We were treated fairly," said Senate Democratic leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City. "I was with my bills. They all had a hearing. ... This was a year when our bills were not locked up."

Amid this year's lawmaking blitz, 24 of Utah's 104 legislators — one of every four — managed to pass all of the bills they introduced. That ranged from Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, going 15 for 15, and Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton going 13 for 13, to five lawmakers who went 1 for 1.

Only four lawmakers did not introduce any legislation at all: Lockhart and Reps. Jerry Anderson, R-Price; Kay Christofferson, R-Lehi; and Sue Duckworth, D-Magna.

Another six lawmakers failed to pass any of the bills they introduced — and five of the six were Democrats. That group included Republican Sen. Mark Madsen (three bills), Democratic Sen. Jim Dabakis (one bill) and Democratic Reps. Brian King (seven bills), Angela Romero (two bills) and Lynn Hemingway and Marie Poulson (one each).

On the other extreme, 10 legislators — all Republicans — managed to pass at least a dozen bills each.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, passed 19, followed by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, 18; Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, 17; Dunnigan and Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, 15 each; Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, 14; Rep. Brad Dee, R-Ogden, Stevenson and Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, 13 each; and Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, 12.