Utah lawmakers are on pace to open 1,500 bill files in 2017, a record number to be sure. In fact, legislators seem to break that particular record every single year.
Ultimately, that many bills won’t be introduced, but lawmakers can bank on considering several hundred pieces of legislation before the final day of the 2017 session.
“That’s an incredible number of bills to consider during a 45-day session,” said Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe. “We did do a lot of work during the interim to prioritize many bills before the session.”
For his part, House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, says he’s told the House Rules Committee that they have to “vet some of these bills” — because there are just too many coming into the system.
“I’ve kept (Rules) down to a small number” of representatives. There are only eight members of the committee. “I trust all of these folks” on Rules, Democrats and Republicans, said Hughes.
Hughes showed UtahPolicy a report prepared for GOP leaders. It lists several issues, a few controversial, with rankings from the interim committee GOP chairmen. Next to each issue is a red, yellow or green “traffic” light.
The House Rules Committee has been given the report. And if an issue has a red light next to it, then the House Rules Committee would be wise to hold any bills dealing with that issue.
“The issue has been vetted in the interim — by a committee — we don’t need to waste any more time on it,” said Hughes. He declined to give UtahPolicy a copy of the report. It is not secret, said Hughes. But some representatives may feel bad if their pet issue is red-flagged, and so it appears it is dead even before the session really gets going.
“Maybe the (legislator) can make a case to Rules that that (red) bill needs to get out, needs more of a hearing,” said Hughes. So the report is not doctrinaire.
But 1,500 bill requests?
That is just too much for the legislative staff and lawmakers to really deal with effectively in the 45-day session, one of the shortest of the 50 states.
Yes, Utah’s Legislative session is short, but don’t even think of finding a way to keep lawmakers on the Hill longer. Most think the current 45-day session is just right.
“Look at the Texas Legislature,” said Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton. “They only meet every other year, and they do just fine for a state of 25 million people.”
On the sly, if you will, legislative staff has told Hughes that one lawmaker has opened more than 40 bill files. (Some legislators classify some of their bills as secret, and so staff can’t under rules tell even leaders about them.) Now, he or she may not ultimately file 40-plus bills. But staff time is being taken up researching and drafting those 40 bills — at least for now.
“I don’t want to — don’t even know if we can — limit the number of bills someone introduces,” said Hughes. But if leaders put up gates to slow down, or even stop, more than 12 bills from a single legislator being heard and voted on, then that is one way for the House and Senate Rules Committees to vet legislation so more-worthy bills can get adequate hearings.