Despite warnings by legislative leaders that too many bills are being introduced into the Utah Legislature.
Despite a reworking of the 45-day general session schedule, which gave far fewer hours on the floor for debates and passage votes.
Despite the words of some of the old dogs of both the House and Senate that the Legislature wasn’t debating bills enough, and too many pieces of legislation were getting too little real attention.
The 2014 Legislature saw a record number of bills and resolutions introduced.
And the number passed was the third highest in state history, overtopped just by the 2013 and 2011 Legislatures.
In short, in the 2014 session, which ended last Thursday at midnight, leaders and some supporting rank-and-file may have talked a good game about how fewer bills should be introduced, and certainly fewer bills should pass each year, in the end it was business as usual during the previous 45 days.
A count by UtahPolicy shows that 786 bills and resolutions were introduced last session.
Of those, 486 were passed by both the House and Senate and sent to GOP Gov. Gary Herbert for his approval or veto.
The 2013 session saw 524 bills passed; the 2011 session had 504, tally sheets passed out during hearings by the Legislative Process Committee held last interim show.
Considering all the talk by GOP and Democratic leaders about how the Utah Legislature should slow down, take more time and consideration on legislation, the 2014 session ended up about the same as always.
Also of concern – especially by House members – was how many Senate-sponsored bills did not get a public hearing in the House.
Representatives complained “games were being played” by savvy senators, nearly all of them Republicans.
The GOP senators would hold their controversial bills until late in the session. Then after the House stopped holding standing committees – where bills are presented before the public and given a committee approval before they can come to a House floor vote – the senators would move their bill for final Senate votes.
That way the senators don’t have to face pesky House members in committee – less chance their bill will be amended by the committee, no chance that their bill would be killed by a House standing committee, because it never goes before a House standing committee.
The statistical bill numbers found on the Legislature’s web site don’t show the number of bills that didn’t get a standing committee hearing in the opposing body.
At least there are no totals available; although each individual bill tracking shows if such an opposing body hearing was held.
But sitting in the House press gallery during the final days of the session, I can tell you from experience that many Senate bills were read on to the House floor calendar with the reading clerk declaring, “this did not have a House standing committee report.”
Meaning there was no House public hearing on the Senate bill.
Another interesting fact – perhaps related to the large number of bills introduced and voted on for final passage in both bodies:
Over last decade, the percentage of bills passed compared to the number of bills introduced each session is rising.
In other words, as more and more bills are introduced and voted on, a greater percent of those bills become law.
A UtahPolicy analysis shows that in the 2014 general session, 61.8 percent of the bills introduced ultimately passed.
Last year saw the highest percentage, 70 percent of bills introduced passed.
Other general sessions show: 2012, 62.2 percent; 2011, 64.4 percent; 2010, 67.4 percent; 2009, 64 percent; 2008, 58.6 percent; 2007, 57.8 percent; 2006, 54.9 percent; 2005, 55.2 percent; and so on.
In the 2000 general session, 753 bills were introduced and 393 passed, for a 52.1 percent success rate.
So over the last 15 years, the percent of bills passed has risen by nearly 15 percentage points.
In a legislature where both bodies are heavily made up of one political party, it may be assumed that majority lawmakers’ chances of passage of their bills is high.
Does the GOP Utah House really want to kill a bunch of GOP Senate bills? Or vice versa?
If that is done – and most of these final votes take place in the last 10 days of each session – then if figures that the other body will take revenge, and kill a bunch of House GOP bills in the Senate and the other way around.
In a press conference called near the end of the session, House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, blurted out that the Senate GOP leadership would be sending over bills they want the House to vote on.
“They control our (floor) calendar,” said Dee. He then quickly corrected himself, saying, “Well, we control our calendar.”
“Yes we do,” snapped House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, whose big-ticket public education technology initiative had just basically been killed by reluctant Republican senators.
So, GOP senators send over a list of the Senate bills they want the House to vote on – and especially with Senate bills that cost money and have been prioritized into the balanced budget process, senators expect their bills to pass the House and go to the governor.
Likewise, House Republicans send over a list of House bills they want voted on by the Senate, and expect many of them to pass as well.
This tit for tat process – understandable as it is – makes it very difficult for GOP leaders who many want fewer bills debated and passed to really control the flow of legislation, despite their misgivings.
“We do a good job dealing with the quantity of bills before us,” long-time House member Mel Brown, R-Kamas, said during a Legislative Process Committee hearing.
“But we don’t do as well on quality” – fewer bills should be introduced, fewer bills passed, more bills debated and amended into a better law, Brown believes.
Well, the process committee didn’t come up with concrete proposals to slow down the runaway bill train each session – bills aimed at requiring standing committee hearings in both bodies (now a rule, but one regularly suspended in the final 10 days of each session) died in the 2014 Legislature.
And deep inside the Legislature’s own budget passed this session is funding for a new drafting attorney in Legislative Research and General Counsel – the office where the bills are written for each session.