Lawmakers taking steps to control number of bills on Capitol Hill

Utah Capitol 11

Gov. Gary Herbert and some GOP legislators are congratulating the 2020 general session for not having as many bills to consider as recent 45-day sessions.

But it looks like weak, and incorrect, praise.

A count by finds that as of Monday morning 830 bills and resolutions have been introduced and numbered this session.

And there are four days left in the session in which a bill can officially be introduced.

In the 2018 general session, there were a total of 821 bills and resolutions introduced — or nine fewer.

Now, just introducing a bill doesn’t mean it will be sent to a standing committee and scheduled for a public hearing and vote — needed to advance any bill.

And the Senate and House Rules Committees let bills out to a standing committee. They have been stingier in doing that this session, is told.

It is up to standing committee chairs to place a bill or resolution on a committee agenda, for public hearing and votes. But standing committee chairs don’t hold many bills.

However, if a sponsor of a bill is a Republican, and in the majority, then it is likely that your bill will at least get a committee hearing — if GOP leaders anger too many of their caucus members by holding their bills, then it is more likely that member won’t vote for you again for your leadership position.

And Rules Committee chairs can be hard-asses and not let a GOP-sponsored bill out. And they are appointed by majority leaders — they aren’t elected by the caucus.

But, again, if Rules chairs anger too many of their majority colleagues by holding Republican bills, it’s not likely they will be elected into leadership should they run for such a position.

Now, Democratic-sponsored bills are fair game for the majority Republicans. And a number of their bills never get out of Rules (although this happens more in the 75-member House than in the 29-member Senate.)

Democratic gun-control, abortion-related and election reform bills almost always die in Rules — but not always.

Rep. Patrice Arent’s bill to end straight-ticket voting, for example, may well pass this year — only due to support among Republicans in both the House and Senate.

So, the 2020 Legislature may end up with a few more numbered bills than in the recent past, it’s likely because lawmakers were bill-hungry early on.

House and Senate leaders were concerned about the number of bill files opened before this session started.

More than 1,000 requests were being made of legislative drafting attorneys.

To better get a handle on that leaders have started several so-called “bill drafting reforms.”

Leaders have released the number of bill file requests each legislator has asked for. Via basic math, identified those lawmakers asking for the most bills, and how many “secret” bill drafts they were working on.

Hint: Republicans and Democrats both were among the most “secret” bill requesters.

To save poor math-skill reporters doing arithmetic, in the future, is told, each legislator will be publicly listed with the number of bill requests along with the number of public and “secret” bills they are working on. We won’t know what the “secret” bill’s topic is, only that they are working on one.

And leaders have changed the way that so-called “priority” bills will be handled by drafting attorneys, giving each legislator more priorities and senators more than House members — with an eye, hopefully, that more “consequential” bills will get into the committee hearing process earlier, and less-important bills can be shifted to the bill-drafting, bill introducing slow lane.