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Utah Legislature: Stats show wild rush, big hitters

Published March 26, 2014 1:48 pm

By the numbers • Legislature passes third highest number of bills, nine of 10 sponsored by GOP.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

During this year's Legislature, leaders reported weekly that members were passing far fewer bills than usual. Then the last week arrived, and lawmakers hit the afterburners.

They ended up approving the third most bills ever: 486. Most of those — 57 percent — passed in the last week — and a third of the total on the harried final day. That may raise questions about how much scrutiny the legislation received in the rush.

Among other notable statistics emerging from the 2014 Legislature:

• Nine of every 10 bills passed were sponsored by Republicans, showing perhaps how much of a one-party state Utah is. Republicans hold 82 percent of the seats in the Legislature and passed 89 percent of the bills.

• Lawmakers introduced the most bills ever: 784 (two more than the previous record of 782 in 2011). Three of every five bills passed, 62 percent.

• Fifteen lawmakers passed every bill they introduced. Nine failed to pass any, and four introduced no bills.

The numbers come from analysis by The Salt Lake Tribune of legislative records. A batting average for every member can be found online at sltrib.com.

Timing • The Legislature tweaked its procedure this year so that during the first week of its 45-day session, it worked only on base budget bills to give spending more attention. Normal committee work on all other bills was delayed by a week — and caught up only in the frenzied final days.

So "bills moved a little bit more slowly [at first]. But I think you would find almost universal acceptance and recognition that was a good process for the budget this year," House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said on the last day of the session.

On that last day, the two houses were in session a combined 26 hours. Members passed 162 bills that day — averaging one every 9.6 minutes in each body.

Is that too fast for careful consideration?

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, says no — in part because this year's Legislature held committee meetings longer into its session than usual, up to the last week.

"When you have more committee hearings, it takes less time on the floor because you have worked out more of the details," he said.

He noted that in many years, most bills considered during the last week have had a hearing only either in the Senate or House. He said more bills went through hearings in both bodies this year.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, said what happens in the Capitol is human nature.

"The Legislature is like everyone else. They're procrastinating and waiting until the last minute, and getting the last deals. It's just the nature of the organization that a lot of this stuff happens in the last little while."

Number of bills • The record number of bills introduced, 784, comes in an election year, when lawmakers want to show voters they are working hard.

Senate Rules Committee Chairman John Valentine, R-Orem, said earlier that he suspects the record came because "this particular class of legislators have really been active in trying to look at ways to solve problems in the state."

Another reason so many were introduced, he said, is "our legislative general counsel has been very efficient in getting bills drafted as they have been requested."

With Republicans controlling four of every five seats, they passed nine of every 10 bills — and the lion's share of major initiatives or bills that require funding, as opposed to simple corrections bills or commemorative resolutions.

Dabakis said, "The fact is that while we pretend there is bipartisanship, unless the people in November [elections] speak, we'll continue to have a one-party state. As [forced-to-resign former GOP Attorney General] John Swallow shows, we need a two-party state, we need a system that has checks and balances."

Heavy hitters • Fifteen legislators passed every bill they introduced. But not all bills are created equally, and some of those 100 percenters still passed far more bills than others.

For example, Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, Senate budget chairman, went 17-for-17 and has extra say about what projects and bills receive funding. The House budget chairman, Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville, went 12-for-12.

Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, went 13-for-13, and the well-liked leader did it even after being hospitalized for a heart attack on the next-to-last day of the session.

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, went 12-for-12 while leading the House investigation into former Attorney General John Swallow, and while often chairing the House while other leaders were away in meetings or in budget negotiations.

At the lighter end of the 100 percenters is retiring Rep. Janice Fisher, D-West Valley City, who passed the one bill she introduced — a resolution designating "Call Your Military Buddy Day."

Three other lawmakers — Reps. Susan Duckworth, D-Magna; John Mathis, R-Vernal; and Dan McCay, R-Riverton — went two-for-two with bills. They included a resolution by Duckworth recognizing a sister-city relationship between Magna and Yuzawa, Japan.

The person who passed the most bills in the Legislature was Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, who went 19-for-26. He impressed Niederhauser. "A lot of the bills he passed were not easy, including SB54," a compromise between political parties and the Count My Vote initiative supporters.

It allowed the current caucus-convention system to continue, but lets candidates bypass it and get on the primary ballot if they collect enough signatures.

Other 100 percenters include Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, eight bills; Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, six bills; Rep. Brad Last, R-St. George, and Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, five bills each; Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, and Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, four bills; and Rep. Don Ipson, R-St. George, three bills.

Non-hitters • Nine lawmakers did not pass any bills. That does not mean they are not powerful.

House Speaker Lockhart and Senate President Niederhauser are two of them, and are arguably the Legislature's two most powerful members, who do not run many bills by tradition.

Two other members also chose not to introduce any bills: freshman Rep. John Westwood, R-Cedar City, and four-term Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo, who was among the founders of the seeking-less-government Patrick Henry Caucus.

Five other House members attempted bills, but did not pass any: Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, Lynn Hemingway, D-Millcreek, Jerry Anderson, R-Price, Earl Tanner, R-West Jordan, and Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville.

The two legislators who had the highest number of failed bills often pushed less-than-popular ethics reform bills.

Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, had 14 fail, the most of anyone, but passed six. Several had sought ethics reforms including imposing limits on campaigns donations, and he also sought liquor law reform, including eliminating the "Zion Curtain."

Right behind him in frustration was retiring Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, who had 13 bills fail but passed five. One was intended to allow legislators to abstain when they have a conflict of interest (they now must vote). Ironically, the Rules Committee refused to vote on it, citing an obscure rule that its hearing had lasted too long. —

2014 Legislature statistics

Bills passed: 486, third most ever behind 524 in 2013 and 504 in 2011

Bills introduced: 784, highest ever

Percentage of bills passed on the last day: 33 percent (57 percent passed in the last week)

Percentage of passed bills sponsored by Republicans: 89 percent (The GOP holds 82 percent of the seats.)

Number of lawmakers who passed 100 percent of their bills: 15

Number of lawmakers who passed no bills: Nine