Lawmakers Hoping to ‘Slow the Flow’ of Legislation this Session

While the chairs of the Senate and House rules committees very carefully talk around the issue, UtahPolicy has been told that both bill sifting bodies have, in one way or another, slowed down the bills of members who have filed a large number of measures this session.

The result, it appears, is that senators and representatives with 20, 25 or even 30 bills are not seeing their babies moving quickly the first two weeks of the 45-day general session.

Year after year, various lawmakers and their elected leaders have bemoaned the number of bills being filed each session – the number growing seemingly out of control.

And these lawmakers complain about the heavy workload of bills being passed in the final 10 days of the session.

In the 2014 Legislature a third of all new laws passed, passed the final week of the session.

Especially new House members – and there are more than 40 out of 75 who have less than four years experience – complain they are asked to vote on measures they don’t fully understand, nor have been vetted in a House standing committee.

House Rules Chair Mike Noel, R-Kanab, no shrinking violet himself, when asked about slow moving bills by representatives with a large number of measures, started out the conversation with UtahPolicy: “Ok, I have to be very careful how I word this.”

Noel goes on to say that simply by the method his eight-member committee is sifting bills this session, it follows that a lawmaker with a large number of bills won’t be seeing a lot of them moving quickly to standing committee hearings.

That’s because each House Rules Committee member, each day, gets to nominate three bills for consideration. At the open Rules meeting – held during the short floor action daily sessions – 24 or so bills are on the list.

And the committee, six Republicans and two Democrats, vote those bills to certain standing committees for hearings, or take them off of the list to be held by Rules.

In short, House Rules is supposed to do its job – which is to really sift bills.

Senate Rules Chair Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, also carefully picks his words, but acknowledges "If we stay with the schedule we are looking at, a lot of bills won't get through."

Van Tassell says the number of bills they're looking at this year is in line with what they've been seeing over the past few years, but senators are clearly hoping to slow down the flow of legislation this year.

"I think there's always some concern about the number of bills carried by legislators, but we don't want to limit any individuals. But we are having discussions about how we can adjust the flow to a slower pace."

Van Tassell says throttling back on the speed that legislation moves during the session may cause some consternation among lawmakers.

"Change is always tough," he says. "Old habits are even harder to change."

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, told UtahPolicy before the session started the expects Rules to seriously sift bills, and not just be a rubber stamp to send all bills that are ready out to standing committees.

Noel said he’s following that order.

“So, if there’s a guy with 40 bills in the House,” and there is one, “then he may not see his bills” coming out of Rules early on – since there are 75 House members and only two-dozen bills get on the Rules Committee agenda each day – Monday through Friday.

The Senate Rules Committee operates a bit differently.

There are only 29 senators, and half a dozen or so each session introduce a large number of bills.

And a few senior, and powerful, senators – like Senate Budget Chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan – have perfected a system where they can carry and manage a lot of bills.

As of Wednesday Hillyard had just 13 bills in the process, a low number by his usual standards.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Bountiful, on the other hand has 27 bills in the works.

Over in the House, Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, has 31 bills in the pipeline.

Legislators should be judicious in the number of bills they file, said Noel.

But in the 2015 Legislature, those not following that advice may find themselves – it appears – having a hard time getting their bills heard and up for final votes on the floors of the House and Senate.