Proposal could crack down on lawmakers who open an excessive number of bill files

Transparency will solve so many problems in government, believes Rep. Dan McCay, who wants the public to know who in the heck opened 82 bill files this session.

So, after some heavy pushback on his original idea – banning the secret drafting of bills – McCay comes with HJR13.

The joint rule would require the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel to publicly report how many bill files each of the 104 part-time lawmakers open each year.

Well, mostly like that.

HJR13 would allow lawmakers to subtract from their total all “abandoned” bills – those they opened at some point, but then killed themselves, either before they became public, or after.

If you are wondering if all this appears to be much about little, not so fast.

Earlier this year, in an open GOP House caucus (there’s that “transparency” thing again), Majority Whip Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, announced that some unnamed legislator had opened 82 bill files.

That drew a few gasps from his colleagues – where it is more likely five to 15 bills are sponsored by a legislator each general session.

It was later hinted that it was a senator who was so bill hungry – but their identity remained unknown because of current secret bill drafting rules.

McCay, R-Riverton, originally said he would try to stop all secret bills – known officially as “protected” bills. Those are bills a legislator opens, but won’t allow anyone – even fellow lawmakers – to know about and what they are working on.

“But that got a lot of pushback,” says McCay, from colleagues. “There is feeling that on occasion” there is value in being able to open a bill file and start work on it before making it public.

Of course, all bills must be public and go through a public hearing process before being passed in public in the House and Senate.

As written, HJR13 would take effect upon passage, so the individual’s bill files opened this session would become public.

That would catch the lawmaker who opened 82 bill files – if, indeed, there is such a person.

McCay, a thorough legislator who likes to count votes, says his resolution will pass the House, and hopefully, the Senate as well.

Now, as written, HJR13 would allow someone to open 82 bill files (or any number), most of them secret, and before the reporting deadline abandon all but three, and have only three reported publicly.

Still, the process itself in HJR13 may well reduce the number of bill files opened – a goal GOP leaders stressed any number of times as, once again, Utah’s lawmakers set new records in the number of bill files opened, and the number of bills introduced, in this 45-day session.

(There are over 1,300 bill files opened for this session, and the number of introduced bills is still growing daily, 613 as of Tuesday morning – all coming in a 45-day general session, one of the shortest among the 50 states.)

By letting the public and media know who are opening large numbers of bill files – and taking up the time and resources of legislative drafting attorneys and such – hopefully, says McCay, legislators will be more careful about their work.