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Legislative bills stacking up as 2021 session approaches

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, and Senate workers conduct business during the Utah Legislature first-ever digital special session at the Capitol, April 16, 2020. Lawmakers are prepping bills as the 2021 General Session approaches.

Utah lawmakers have requested more than 740 bills to date in preparation for January’s legislative session and, if past patterns hold, they’ll add 100 or more by the time the opening gavel comes down.
Some among the 104 legislators are far more prolific than average on the bill-sponsoring front to the point that, in 2018, the Legislature created an individual bill tracker to discourage what some leaders saw as an excessive abuse of process.
Utah lawmakers have generally filed more than 1,000 bill requests during each of the past three years, hitting a record 1,359 in 2018, which worked out to an average of about 13 per lawmaker. With two months to go before the session, the average so far this year is down to about seven per legislator.
• Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville — 27.
• Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan — 24.
• Sen. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi — 24.
• Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay — 23.
• Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo — 20.
Rounding out the 10 most prolific bill requesters are:
• Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield — 19.
• Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton — 19.
• Rep. Michael McKell, R-Spanish Fork — 18.
• Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton — 16.
• Reps. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City, and Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper — 15.

Iwamoto, one of just two Democrats on the top 10 list, is currently listed as having filed 23 bills but said she’ll likely introduce only about a third that many when the session starts. Some are measures she will transfer to other lawmakers or ones she’s already resolved without the need for legislation.
She said her bills that do make it into the legislative hopper are on topics she believes are important to the state and her constituents.
“Due to so many critical issues our state is facing,” Iwamoto said, “my focus has been on the health, social and economic disparities and needs of our state.”
Fillmore said he’s also narrowing down the number of bills he will bring to Capitol Hill in January. The large number of files he currently has open are part of his vetting process.
“Having a lot of bill files open means you’re working on a lot of different things,” he said. “I am just doing research on a lot of topics to try to find out what’s going to be the most important.”
Some lawmakers have yet to file any bills. Most are lame ducks who are either retiring or lost their primary elections. These include Sens. Ralph Okerlund, Lyle Hillyard and Allen Christensen as well as Reps. Marc Roberts, Lee Perry, Val Potter, Marie Poulson, Tim Quinn, Brad Daw, Patrice Arent and Kyle Andersen.
Outgoing Sen. and Lt. Gov.-elect Deidre Henderson of Spanish Fork also has filed no bill requests because of the new role she’ll be taking on come January.
Legislative rules bar lawmakers who aren’t returning for the next session from filing bill requests.
Rep. Susan Duckworth, D-Magna, is sticking with her tradition of filing few if any bills, and Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, has yet to request a single piece of legislation.
Hillyard first came to the Capitol in 1981, making him the longest currently serving lawmaker. But the usually prolific bill sponsor is on the way out after losing his June primary and has submitted no bill requests.
The Logan Republican, an attorney by profession, said the number of bills a legislator carries isn’t always the best measure of effectiveness.
“I look at some people who may not carry a lot of bills or may not be too successful because they’re taking really controversial bills,” Hillyard said, “but yet they add to the debate on the floor and committees and give insights that really make the bills better.”
On the flip side, he remembers a conversation a few years ago about the senator who had passed the most bills that session. “I was in a meeting with some of the legislators and somebody made a comment. He said, ‘Can you tell me one bill he did?’ And I couldn’t think of one because most of the bills he did were very minor kinds of bills.”
The number of bills actually introduced during a general session hasn’t fluctuated much in recent years: between 815 and 846 bills in each of the past five years. And lawmakers generally end up passing nearly two-thirds of them.
With a new law allowing lawmakers to call themselves into special session and the pressing needs of the pandemic, the Legislature has had four special sessions this year, adding 68 new laws to the 510 enacted from the general session ending last March.
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