Conservative ‘small government’ Utah Legislature is busy pushing a record number of bills
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert speaks before the Utah Legislature during his annual State of the State address Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (Steve Griffin/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)
Utah legislators just set a new record: they opened 1,341 “bill files” this year for new legislation as they hit the deadline for such action. The previous record was 1,298 — set last year.
Even once the deadline passed, lawmakers were still opening more bill files — but had to seek special permission on the floor of their chamber. Senators, for example, asked and received permission to open four more bill files on Friday.
“I’m not necessarily proud of it,” Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said about the new record. “I think it’s indicative of the intensity I think we’re feeling from our communities about the issues that are facing us. It seems to get more intense every year,” leading to more and more bills.
Niederhauser added, “I think you could probably cut a couple hundred bills out of what we pass at the end of the day, and everybody would be just fine.”
(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune)
Senate President Wayne L. Niederhauser, R-Sandy, during floor time in the Senate, Thursday, January 25, 2018.
However, he also defended the high number of bills, saying the annual legislative session is “a 45-day forum of free speech. And any person of any mind who can get a sponsor, they can bring an issue before the Legislature and we have to address that issue.”
He said, “To try to muzzle that or suppress that in any way, I think would be wrong.” And if a crazy or unusual proposal comes up, “If you don’t like it, vote no.”
Last November, Utah legislative leaders discussed concerns about the ever-increasing number of bill requests. One unnamed senator had requested a towering 80-plus bills, they said.
This is ridiculous, in my opinion,” House Majority Whip Francis Gibson said at the time.
When Niederhauser asked if it is possible to hold longer sessions to address so many ideas, he said, “It is possible, but then we would just pass more bills…. So I would oppose that. We have 45 days of free speech, let’s at least limit it that way — but address anything that any person wants to bring to the Legislature.”
Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said he was talking to a legislator from Colorado on Friday. “Their session is 120 days. He says, ‘We just can’t get through everything.’” He said if Utah ever lengthened its session, lawmakers would probably feel the same.
Last year, the Legislature passed a record 535 bills. The previous record was 528 in 2015.
Last year, the average bill aged 17.2 days between its formal introduction and first floor vote — and 9.2 more working days until its final passage during the 45-day session.