Welcome to Utah! This is Emily Anderson Stern, a Statewatch reporter at The Tribune.
Now that you’re here driving our increasingly crowded roads, inhaling some of the nation’s worst inversion, and biting your nails over how drought might impact our water supply, you should get to know the Utah Legislature.
State lawmakers make decisions that touch every Utahn’s life, and most believe that lawmakers hold more power than any other body, according to a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll earlier this year. That perspective likely comes from legislative efforts in recent years to expand their influence.
The Utah Constitution suggests, though, that “All political power is inherent in the people.”
So as you try to use that power, here are four things you need to know about the Legislature, and what limits there are to making your voice heard:
1) Utah has one of the shortest legislative sessions in the country
Although Utah holds a legislative session each year, its constitutionally mandated session length is one of the shortest in the country at 45 days, or about six weeks. So don’t blink — and maybe schedule a few days off to head up to Capitol Hill and advocate — or you might miss it.
In a typical session, lawmakers pass more than 500 bills and resolutions. The Legislature saw record numbers of bills both introduced and passed in 2023, with 929 put forward and 575 sent to the governor for his signature.
In between sessions, legislators continue to meet to handle business, go over audits and talk about priorities for the next year. Occasionally they’ll hold special sessions and pass more laws — as they did this past year to fund emergency flood response and to set a special congressional election. Voters in 2018 approved the Legislature’s proposal that they be given the power to call such sessions (it was previously only held by the governor).
2) Lawmakers don’t have term limits
In Utah, legislators can serve for as long as they — if their constituents — want to. Republican Sen. Curt Bramble, of Provo, and Democratic Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, of Salt Lake City, for example, have both held seats in the Legislature for over two decades.
Representatives are elected to two-year terms, and senators to four-year terms.
There are 29 seats in the Senate — the same number of counties in the state, although districts are not divided by county line — and 75 in the House.
3) The Legislature has a growing Republican supermajority
The House of Representatives has 61 Republicans, making up 81% of the body, and 23 Republicans comprise 79% of the Utah Senate. So for the foreseeable future, expect most policymaking coming out of the body to follow a GOP agenda.
It hasn’t always been this way, believe it or not. In the 1970s, just after Watergate, Utah had a Democratic governor and the party held both the House and the Senate. But after that, Republicans regained control of the Legislature, and the party’s stronghold on lawmaking has grown in the last few decades.
After the GOP-controlled Legislature approved new political maps the previous year, Republicans in 2022 gained three more seats in the House.
The size of the Republican supermajority allows the Legislature to easily override gubernatorial vetoes, like when Gov. Spencer Cox rejected a bill that bans transgender girls from playing school sports that match their gender identity. The law, pending litigation, is now on hold. (Earlier this year, Cox quickly signed legislation banning transgender health care for Utah’s youth.)
According to an analysis by Brigham Young University political science professor Adam Brown, the passage rate for Republican bills has held steady for the last several years around 70%. Meanwhile, Democrats’ bills have passed less and less frequently over the last few years, decreasing from 57% in 2019 to a 17-year low of 34% this year.
Democratic bills are also not considered as often as Republican legislation, as 80% of the majority party’s bills made it to a vote this year, while only 48% of the minority’s were voted on. That figure is also a 17-year low.
4) How to follow what the Legislature is doing and make your voice heard
As you’re figuring out how the Legislature impacts you, and how you can make your voice heard in the Capitol, you should first figure out who your lawmakers are. And that’s easy.
Plug your address into this search bar on the Legislature’s website to learn your legislative districts and the names of your state lawmakers. Most other questions you have about the lawmaking body can be answered on that website.
Want to know what bills lawmakers are considering on a specific topic? Go to the bill browsing page, select the current session, and whatever topic you’re following. Or, if you want to see all of the bills being considered, you can watch as they’re numbered.
And if you want to reach out to your lawmakers, you’ll find their contact information on the Legislature’s website.
You can also attend committee meetings during which a bill you’re for — or against — is being discussed. Depending on the day’s agenda and the determination of the committee chair, citizens typically get up to two minutes each to comment on a bill.
The time and place of a meeting can be found on the committee’s landing page, and remote participation is also available.