What Limited Government? Utah Lawmakers are Already Proposing More Legislation than Last Year

Utah State CapitolWell, here we go again.

UtahPolicy is told that as of Tuesday there were 970 bill requests (bill files opened) by Utah’s 104 part-time legislators – all leading up to the start of the 2017 Legislature Jan. 23.

This time before the 2016 Legislature, there were 905 bill requests, or bill files opened.

Each lawmaker has up until early February to open a new bill file. So who knows what the final number of new bills will be for the 2017 Legislature.

But 2016 was a new record for the number of bills filed, and the number of bill requests made.

So 2017 is well on track to set a new high for the number of bills to be considered during the relatively short 45-day Utah general session.

For a bunch of GOP conservative legislators – who are supposed to believe in limited state government – making citizens and business follow more and more new laws seems a bit odd.

What happened to teaching proper principles and then letting citizens use their good judgment and individual responsibility to decide their own lives?

What happened to leaders trusting citizens to make their own decisions, instead of state government telling them more and more what they have to do?

Yet each year, under complete Republican rule of state government, we see more and more new laws being imposed.

Of course, if you ask an individual legislator, he or she is just doing with their constituents wish – a problem is identified and a new law is needed to rectify or lessen that problem.

That’s how our form of democratic republic is supposed to operate.

And what lawmaker wants to go back to his or her voters every two or four years to brag about how they didn’t file one bill, or try to solve any problems?

Legislative leaders, both Republicans and Democrats, have tried to deal with the issue of too many bills – especially the problem of passing so many bills in the final week of each general session.

Complicated and far-reaching legislation that may have had several floor debates (on top of supposedly mandatory, but not really, committee hearings) often times flies through in the final days of each session.

And sometimes – to the general embarrassment of many legislators, even the governor – special sessions need to be called to fix a problem created in part by the quick passage of bills.

I remember after one session in the 1980s a last-minute rewrite of a state income tax bill accidently left out part of the code that order tax payments.


A special session was called to put back in the enforcement provision, for lawmakers couldn’t count on all Utahns paying their state income taxes without being ordered to do so.

The idea of limiting, by rule, how many bills each legislator can introduce has been discussed. But that has always been considered unconstitutional, for a law shouldn’t limit how a legislator does his job.

So a rather complicated ranking system is now in place.

Each lawmaker can have three “priority” bills, with three different deadlines for drafting by the clearly overworked legislative attorneys (who have to write the bills).

The first priority deadline comes well before the session, the second priority must be named by the legislator by Jan. 5, with the third priority being Jan. 26 (a few days after the Legislature convenes).

The idea is that after your third priority bill, all the others you request must get in line behind other members’ priority bills.

But there are still some legislators who introduce dozens of bills each session.

Of course, disgruntled colleagues may start killing the bills of overzealous lawmakers. But that doesn’t seem to happen much.

In fact, a recent study of bill flow by legislative staff finds that standing committees rarely kill any bill (or, at least, don’t kill many Republican-sponsored bills, Democrats have a slightly harder time of it).

Rather a few bills are voted down on the floor of the House or Senate, with most just dying because the clock runs out at the end of 45 very busy days.

Still, a powerful, long-time lawmaker who knows the system can pound through a dozen bills a session without much trouble – depending, of course, on how controversial some of the legislation may be.

Here is a list of the new laws passed by the 2016 Legislature – which includes budget bills and resolutions: 473 all told.

The more bills introduced, the more work for each legislator to keep up, the more opportunity (need?) for lobbyists to push bills, the harder it is for pressed-upon reporters to catch special-interest legislation slipping through unnoticed, the more new laws citizens and businesses have to obey.

Here comes the 2017 Legislature – meet the new boss, even bigger than the old boss.