Tribune Editorial: There are too many bills in the Legislature

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes gives his opening remarks to members of the House of Representatives at the start of the 2018 Legislative session at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City Monday, Jan. 22, 2018.

The legislative session is only 45 days. Yet the number of bill requests keeps increasing each year. This year the Legislature opened a record 1,362 bill requests.

Despite more bill requests, though, the Legislature isn’t necessarily passing more bills. The truth is, 45 days only allows for so much legislating.

That’s probably a good thing.

Except for appropriations bills, Monday was the last day legislators could pass a bill from their respective houses. In other words, the House had to pass all bills that originated in the House, and the Senate had to pass all bills that originated in the Senate.

Presumably, the Legislature set this rule to give the other body sufficient time to consider a bill. But three days is not sufficient for the House or Senate to fully consider a bill.

The time spent wasted on bills that have little chance to pass is a disservice to the state. Despite the record number of bill requests, Adam Brown, an assistant professor of political science at Brigham Young University, tweeted that going into day 43, the Legislature “has passed 268 bills, which is really close to the average (259) and median (263) from the past 10 sessions.”

One senator opened 83 bill files for this session. It’s an impossible number to deal with.

Because there are so many bills, and so little time, good bills get short shrift.

Like the bill to eliminate the food tax. HB148 passed the House but failed in the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee on Monday, the last day of committee hearings. The bill would have helped low-income families, who spend a higher percentage of their income on food, save money on their grocery bills. With a little more time, the four Republicans who voted against the bill in committee could have been persuaded by the bill’s bipartisan success in the House.

In an effort to curb the number of bills opened, Rep. Dan McCay introduced a joint resolution that would require the Legislature to disclose the number of bills opened by each lawmaker. Currently, legislators can designate a bill file as “protected,” which keeps the file, and its sponsor, private.

Some legislators argue that the prolific filing is meant to spur debate, and that the process self-corrects to prioritize important bills.

But maybe if legislators introduced only important bills, then every bill would receive an appropriate amount of debate, negotiation and precision before it gets to the governor’s desk.

If only.