A UtahPolicy analysis of the bills that were in the House Rules Committee as of last Friday morning, which have fiscal notes and are ready to go to House standing committees for hearings, shows that 65 percent of all the bills in the committee are being held.
In other words, 65 percent of those bills could have been moved out, but were not.
(Admittedly, any measure of bills in House Rules is a moving target; bills are filed, numbered, introduced and sent to Rules each day. And each day House Rules meets and, if they have fiscal notes, bills are sent out to standing committees for public hearings and amendments.)
Still, 65 percent of bills with fiscal notes in Rules is a large number of bills that are being held in House Rules.
“We’ve told Rules to do its job, which is to sift bills,” said House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace.
In theory and practice, both the House and Senate Rules Committees, dominated by the majority Republicans, are supposed to hold bills GOP leaders and committee members don’t want to be heard; manage the flow of bills to individual standing committees, so all committees are busy and not allowing some standing committees to be overloaded with bills to hear while other standing committees have little or nothing to do; and, if need be, keep controversial or “stupid” bills so they will never be heard.
But in practice, GOP Rules members don’t want to anger their comrades, especially their Republican colleagues.
I recall a former House Rules chairman, now in the Senate, who took pride in getting all House-sponsored bills with fiscal notes -- and so ready for a public hearing -- out of Rules as fast as possible.
Sifting was done, yes, but only as far as picking which standing committees are the best matches, according to subject matter. But few bills were held so long in House Rules as to kill their chance of ultimate passage by both the House and Senate.
Let the chairman of a standing committee where the bill was assigned hold a bill – or kill a bill – if he so wants, was the thinking back in those days.
Now, some bills being held in House Rules could be languishing because the sponsor isn’t ready to move it forward; or it could be held because it falls into a category that leaders are waiting on; or it could be sponsored by a Democrat; or Rules members just want it dead.
Historically, Democrats’ bills move more slowly through the legislative process than do many GOP-sponsored bills.
This year there are several gun-related bills with fiscal notes ready to go.
But leaders tell UtahPolicy they are waiting for all the gun bills to be introduced and get fiscal notes before they are sent, most likely, to the House Law Enforcement Standing Committee, where they can all be heard at the same time.
However, it’s also likely leaders, or Rules committee members, probably just don’t like a few of the bills being held.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, is sponsoring a number of bills this session dealing with elections and legislative branch transparency.
One is HB78, which would do away with “protected” bills.
Currently, legislators can file a secret, or “protected,” bill-drafting request.
The legislative attorney and researcher working on the bill can’t even tell other legislators that the “protected” bill is being drafted.
Sometimes two or three different lawmakers are having similar “protected” bills being drafted at the same time, but they can’t learn about their colleagues’ bills, so can’t work with them, at least until the bill is numbered and introduced.
Worse, citizens and the media have no knowledge that a bill on that subject is being drafted.
“Protected” bills can be introduced just before the filing deadline and moved quickly through the legislative process.
Or a “boxcar” bill, with no text, can be introduced with some innocuous title, like “Government Amendments,” and held in Rules to the final days of the general session, and then dropped into the process.
Having the ability to have a bill secretly drafted and researched is a long-held strategic advantage in Utah legislative action.
HB477, the GRAMA-changing attempt, was such a bill several years ago, and readers of UtahPolicy know its ill-fated history.
The House Rules Committee, as of Friday, had had HB78 since Jan. 28, the first day of the general session.
The 2013 House Rules Committee, as has been reported previously in UtahPolicy, is unique.
Both the committee chairman, Rep. Dean Sanpei, R-Provo; and vice chairman, Rep. Derek Brown, R-Cottonwood Heights; are on the committee for the first time.
In fact, most members of the committee are on Rules for the first time.
Both Sanpei and Brown were first elected in 2010.
Rarely do first-term freshman get appointed to Rules at the start of their second term, much less be chairman or vice-chairman of the powerful committee.
You can see the membership of House Rules here.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, had previously told UtahPolicy that Sanpei was well respected by House members and would not be playing any games, as, unfortunately, previous House Rules chairman have done, in deciding which bills will be held in Rules or moved out for hearings.
Indeed, several years ago the then-Rules chairman had a public battle with another House Republican, and none of her bills were allowed out of Rules under her sponsorship. She had to give her bills to other GOP representatives to get them heard.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake, sitting for the first time on House Rules, told UtahPolicy that he didn’t see any game playing by committee Republicans so far this session.
Sanpei told UtahPolicy that he can’t say how his Rules Committee is acting compared to previous Rules chairmen, since this is his first time on Rules.
“We are trying to move bills out as they get fiscal notes,” he said. “There is a natural flow” of legislation through the committee.
A UtahPolicy review of the bills in the Senate Rules Committee finds no stacking of legislation, only a few of the Senate bills in Senate Rules having fiscal notes are waiting to be sent to a Senate standing committee.
Last Thursday was the deadline for officially filing a bill this session, and having all bills numbered with at least a short title.
That is why UtahPolicy waited until Friday’s list of bills sitting in House Rules to make a fair comparison of how many bills with fiscal notes were being held in the committee.