The Most and Least Effective Legislators from the 2013 Legislative Session

The Most and Least Effective Legislators from the 2013 Legislative Session
by Bob Bernick

Bob Bernick, Utah Policy Contributing Editor

Bob Bernick, Utah Policy Contributing Editor

So, who was the most successful lawmaker of the 2013 Legislature?

Well, there are different ways of measuring that.

Who introduced the most bills?

That only takes a fertile mind, desire to push your legislation and perhaps a bit of luck in getting your bills in early so legislative attorneys can drift them.

And, of course, a short, simple bill is easier than a very complicated, long one.

How about most bills passed?

After all, it’s the job of a legislator to write new laws, change current ones and/or repeal outdated or unneeded laws.

A quick review by UtahPolicy on the number of bills and resolutions passed (Gov. Gary Herbert still has two weeks to veto any bills) finds these preliminary results:

— Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, passed the most pieces of legislation in the 45-day general session that adjourned March 14.

Weiler, a former top boss in the Utah Republican Party, passed 19 bills and resolutions.

Since it is generally easier to pass a resolution than a bill (there are great exceptions to this, like a constitutional amendment, which is run as a resolution), Weiler’s total is 16 bills and three resolutions.

By any measure, that’s a productive session for Weiler.

It’s not always the case that the more legislation one introduces, the greater chance the more will pass. But there sometimes can be a correlation.

Weiler introduced 27 bills and resolutions this session – the most of any senator.

— Longtime Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, was second in the 29-member Senate. Bramble passed 18 bills and resolutions; 16 being bills, two resolutions.

It’s usually the case that senators introduce and pass more legislation than House members; partly because of numbers.

There are only 29 senators, while there are 75 House members. It takes more time for a representative to get a bill through his body’s sifting, hearing and voting process than it does the smaller number of senators in their body.

— Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, topped the representatives in 2013.

The insurance broker/agent passed 15 bills and resolutions this session – 14 bills and one resolution.

He also introduced 15 measures, so not only did he pass the most in the House, he passed 100 percent of what he introduced – a remarkable achievement.

— Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, passed 14 pieces of legislation in the House, giving him 2ndplace honors among the 75 representatives.

Eliason introduced 16 bills and resolutions, so he only lost two during the process.

There is always the argument that Utah doesn’t need more laws.

And so a truly conservative legislator may be the man or woman who doesn’t introduce much legislation, and may not pass anything.

But it takes a bill to repeal an unneeded law; it takes a bill to repeal a bad law; or to lower taxes or change heavy-handed government regulations.

So not introducing or passing any bill or resolution can also be a sign of a lawmaker not being very active in the general session.

It’s also the case that the minority Democrats – down to record-low numbers in the House and Senate – aren’t going to get many of their bills passed.

Part of that is subject matter. A House Democrat who introduces a bill to raise taxes, even if for education funding, isn’t going to get far.

Any tax hike or decrease is probably going to be sponsored by a majority Republican.

So, let’s take a look at who didn’t introduce or pass much, if any, legislation this year:

— On the Senate side, freshman Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, who is also the state Democratic Party chairman and has said some pretty tough stuff against the GOP-controlled Legislature, only passed one measure this session: A resolution saying Utah stands by Israel. Not much argument among conservative Republicans there.

— Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, didn’t pass any bills this session; he introduced only two bills and one resolution, all of which failed.

— Senators who passed only one measure, besides Dabakis, include: Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy (historically the House speaker and Senate president don’t carry bills. Niederhauser passed the only resolution he introduced); Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake; and freshman Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, introduced eight bills this year, several important pieces of public education reform.

He got five of them passed.

Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, introduced 10 measures, like Stephenson several dealing with important topics and new programs; only three bills and three resolutions passed.

Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, sponsored 13 measures, but saw only five of them pass.

But Urquhart sponsored perhaps the most courageous bill – at least for a Republican – a law that would have given gays and lesbians statewide anti-discrimination protection in housing and employment.

The bill got out of a Senate standing committee, but never had a vote in the Senate and died. Urquhart says he’ll introduce it again in the 2014 Legislature.

The House saw this session 20 freshmen Republicans and one freshman Democrat – a large incoming class. (Marked below with an (F) designation).

And as could be expected, the newcomers didn’t do as well as the veteran representatives.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, did not introduce any bills, so of course none passed.

Also on the zero list of bills passed were: Reps. Susan Duckwork, D-Magna; Marie Poulson, D-Salt Lake; and freshman Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake (F).

Those with only one successful bill are: Reps. Tim Cosgrove, D-Murray; Janice Fisher, D-West Valley; Brian King, D-Salt Lake; Dana Layton, R-Orem (F); Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden; Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay; Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork (F); Earl Tanner, R-West Jordan (F); John Westwood, R-Cedar City (F); Mark Wheatley, D-Midvale; and Larry Wiley, D-West Valley.

Now, also part of the bill-passing effort is how many bills a House member will carry for a senator in the Housel, and how many bills a senator will carry for a House member in the Senate.

While not their own work, so-called floor sponsors still have the weight of arguing for a colleague’s bill in the floor sponsor’s own body.

And it is not always the case that a House Democratic bill is floor sponsored by a Senate Democrat.

In fact, it is a bit of a coup if a minority party member can get a majority colleague in the other body to carry his or her own legislation.

So, who were the most successful floor sponsors in 2013?

(This should be a worthy title, for it shows that opposite body colleagues respect and trust you enough to carry their legislation.)

Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, by far was the Best Friend of the House: Valentine, a former Senate president, carried a remarkable 24 House bills to success in the Senate – many coming in the final days of the session.

On the House side, Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, carried 11 Senate bills to success in the House – winning the title of Best Friend of the Senate.

A final note here: As legislative-loving readers of UtahPolicy already know, there is more to being a successful legislator than just passing bills.

Utah is unique in that all 104 part-time lawmakers sit on budget subcommittees; so all have some part to play in putting together the annual $13 billion state budget.

In addition, smart lawmakers who may be powerbrokers in their own right, for parliamentary reasons, may “hijack” a bill from another sponsor, amend it to include what that hijacker wants, and then run that bill to successful passage.

However, that measure never has the hijacker’s name as the original sponsor.

Just one example in the 2013 Legislature was Rep. Ryan Wilcox’s liquor reform bill, HB228.

As originally drafted, and passed by the House, the bill did away with the so-called “Zion Curtain,” a glass or solid wall blocking from view the mixing of alcoholic drinks in a properly licensed restaurant.

Valentine, who has sponsored a number of liquor bills in recent years, took that bill, amended in some provisions he wanted, took out the Zion Curtain repeal, and then got HB228 passed in the Senate and agreed upon in the House.

So, while Valentine gets no credit for sponsoring a compromise liquor reform bill in the 2013 Legislature, Wilcox’s HB228 would not have passed if not for Valentine’s efforts.