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These Utah lawmakers are brimming with ideas for new laws

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Sen. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, speaks during a committee hearing on Friday, March 2, 2018. Anderegg has opened the most bill files of any Utah lawmaker for the 2020 session, but he says many of those bills will be abandoned.

With 36 bills under his name — so far — Lehi Republican Sen. Jacob Anderegg appears to be the clear leader for Utah’s most prolific lawmaker heading into this month’s legislative session.

But Anderegg says the practical number of bills that he intends to run is lower than that figure, and that his list includes old ideas that he has reintroduced, new proposals aimed at catalyzing negotiations and a series of minor, technical adjustment that would clean up state code.

“I refiled about 11 bills from last year, things that I wanted to continue to work on," Anderegg said. "And opening a bill file is the best way to get people around the table to talk.”

This marks the second year that Utahns are able to easily track the number of bill files requested by state lawmakers, thanks to a listing on the Legislature’s website created through legislation in 2018.

The combined volume of bills each year has generated frustration among some lawmakers, who say the Legislature’s work can be slowed and impeded by runaway requests during the 45-day session. And the lawmaker who originally sponsored legislation to create a public bill counter, Riverton Republican Sen. Dan McCay, once compared such a listing to a “scarlet letter.”

With 25 bill requests, McCay is currently tied with two other lawmakers for third position behind Anderegg and Holladay Democratic Sen. Jani Iwamoto, who has 26 bills. McCay said he was not willing to participate in an interview.

“I’d welcome an article that is focused on explaining the legislative process and tried to inform the public instead [of] what we’ve gotten in the past,” McCay told The Salt Lake Tribune.

McCay at one point had 30 bill requests, putting him in second position among Utah’s lawmakers, but his number dropped after being contacted by the newspaper for comment.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Anderegg said he welcomes the transparency of the bill-tracking feature and that he agrees generally with the idea that Utah’s lawmakers sponsor too much legislation each year. But he added that there are many reasons for opening bill files and that the more important question is what proposals are being sponsored, considered and debated.

He said his bills include topics like water metering, affordable housing, transit-oriented development, dual-immersion education, criminal justice and data privacy.

“It’s about getting the policy right,” Anderegg said, “not the number of bills.”

Among the four lawmakers tied for third place are McCay, Sandy Republican Rep. Steven Eliason and Salem Republican Rep. Marc Roberts. Taylorsville Republican Sen. Wayne Harper comes in just behind them with 24 bills.

If all 104 Utah lawmakers submitted 25 bill requests like those legislators, the combined bill count would stack up to a towering 2,600. Currently, the average number of bills per lawmaker is 10.6 in the Senate and 9.2 in the House, which translates to roughly 1,000 bills overall.

Iwamoto said her count is high, in part, because of a water-banking proposal on which she’s working. She had initially opened four separate bill files on the topic but said she later determined they could be combined into a single piece of legislation, dropping the other three.

More of her bills will likely be abandoned before the Legislature convenes, she said, because she was able to work out various issues with the affected parties.

“I love it when you can resolve things without having to do legislation,” Iwamoto said.

Eliason said it’s next to impossible to evaluate lawmakers based on the overall number of bills they sponsor and that each bill should instead be judged on its individual merits. In many cases, lawmakers are working to repeal existing laws, he said, which ironically requires new legislation.

“If you want to change one comma or period or word, you have to run a bill,” he said. “That’s how it is designed.”

He said his list of legislation includes a number of “boring technical tax bills,” as well as proposals related to mental health and suicide prevention, which Eliason has focused on for the past several years.

“As long as we rank sixth in the nation for suicides per capita," he said, “I’ll make no excuse for working on this issue.”