Now that all bills and resolutions have (supposedly) been introduced into the 2012 Utah Legislature, what is the man who brought us the infamous HB477 in 2011 up to this year?
Well, Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork, is – by simple number of items introduced – very busy.
In fact, Dougall may have set a modern day record not only in the number of bills he’s sponsoring, but the number of “boxcar” bills he’s introduced – bills that while numbered and short titled have yet no text in them.
You may recall that his GRAMA reform bill of 2011 – HB477 – was originally introduced with an innocuous short title (with no text), only to be sprung upon the Legislature and Utah citizens with less than a week to go in the session when wording was added.
This session Dougall has introduced 27 bills and resolutions. In 30 years of covering the Legislature, I can’t remember a higher number sponsored by an individual lawmaker.
Last week was the deadline for legislators to introduce bills without having to ask permission of their body to do so.
Dougall kept legislative attorneys hopping all by himself.
As of Monday morning Dougall had 16 bills and resolutions introduced by number and short title only – no text in the bills.
Most legislators don’t sponsor 16 bills in a session, much less 16 “boxcar” bills.
Dougall told UtahPolicy that some of his “boxcar” bills (so called because they are like empty railroad cars that will be filled later) are specific and non-controversial, others are meant to be debated and thought provoking (but he doesn’t know if they will pass), while several are truly “boxcars” – that will only be used if he and GOP leaders believe a bill on that subject should be run later in the 45-day general session, which ends March 8.
“I don’t know” how he ended up with so many bills this session, said Dougall, who is also the House majority vice-chair of the all-powerful Executive Appropriations Committee.
“Some (of his bills) are important and substantive, some are less so. It’s really a mishmash.”
One of his “boxcar” bills – Open Government Amendments – is a GRAMA bill, he said.
But don’t panic.
Combined with another GRAMA measure coming from the Senate, “I think the media will endorse these bills – they grow out of the (special GRAMA) task force” that met over the summer. Dougall was a major part of that committee’s work.
You may recall the political fiasco of HB477 last year – the bill was quickly passed the House and Senate, Gov. Gary Herbert asked that it be rewritten, he then signed it, but then called a special session to repeal it.
Through traditional media and the social networks, legislators were bashed by Tea Partiers and liberals alike over HB477.
Herbert was called a “political hack” in a front-page Salt Lake Tribune editorial.
After repeal, the governor and legislators then set up a special citizen committee to study Utah’s Government Records Management Access law.
Dougall’s new HB337, while having no text now, “is a consensus” measure, Dougall said.
However, HB356, Higher Education Deregulation Amendments, “will be an issue” to watch over the next several weeks, the conservative Utah County lawmaker said.
HB356 will, when finished, propose changing the governance of colleges and universities in Utah, and may well be opposed by the higher education mandarins.
“I want to push the governance of higher education down from the Board of Regents to the trustees of each college,” said Dougall.
“I’m for decentralization. I’ve run something like this before. I don’t think the way we’re running our system is good – having a Politburo passing down decisions. We don’t want central planning,” said Dougall.
Some of Dougall’s bills this year have short titles that may be rather self-explanatory – in other words, you kind of know the general topic just by the title.
But a few others are titled broad enough that they could be about anything.
For example, HB365, Revisions to Tax, “is a (true) boxcar, there if we need it” to change some kind of tax law in the state.
As reported previously by UtahPolicy, Dougall is also sponsoring HB299, which would cut both the state personal income tax rate and the state sales tax rate, reducing state revenue by hundreds of millions of dollars – a major tax cut for all Utahns.
Here is the list of Dougall “boxcar” bills as of Monday that didn’t have any text yet (No hyperlinks to the bills are provided, since there is nothing to read):
-- HB152, Emission Amendments.
-- HB334, Local Election Amendments.
-- HB335, Professional Licensing Amendments.
-- HB337, Open Government Amendments.
-- HB356, Higher Education Deregulation Amendments.
-- HB364, School District Budgeting Reporting Amendments.
-- HB365, Revisions to Tax.
-- HB366, Receipt of Welfare Benefits Amendments.
-- HB377, Local School Board Amendments.
-- HB379, Barber . . . . (lists other types of haircutters). . Amendments.
-- HB491, Midterm Vacancy Amendments.
-- HB494, Campaign Finance Amendments.
-- HB507, Charter School Allocations Measured by Property Amendments.
-- HCR10, Provo Canal Title Transfer Concurrent Resolution.
-- HJR18, Joint Resolution on Personal Property Tax.
-- HR2, House Rules Resolution on Committee Organization and Selections.
Dougall told UtahPolicy that he’s dumping at least one of his boxcar bills – the barber “hair braiding” bill was first suggested by former Rep. Holly Richardson, R-Pleasant Grove, who resigned in December.
Dougall said he picked it up as a favor to her. He is now passing that off to another House Republican who doesn’t have the workload that Dougall has.
Dougall said he didn’t set out to sponsor a high number of bills. “If you look at my record” since he cam into the House in 2003 he hasn’t sponsored as many bills as some other House members, he said.
“I didn’t sponsor many last year,” he added.
Dougall said he does like to start discussions via some of his bills, and that having something concrete in front of legislators often forces such discussions.