Does the Utah State Legislature pass too many bills?

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that 351 new laws took effect today, addressing issues from foster care to fireworks. During this year’s legislative session, legislators passed 504 bills (many of which were resolutions that didn’t create any new laws) out of a total 929 numbered bills.

This represents a significant rise in the number of bills created and passed over the last 12 years. Since 1998, the number of bills passed per year has increased by an average of 1.0 percent each year and by an average of 5.3 percent each year since 2006. You can see these trends in the following chart:

These data present some interesting questions for responsible citizens generally, and for conservatives in particular. Utah’s legislative session lasts 45 days, which means that if the bills had been divided evenly among the 45 days, in 2011 legislators would have considered as many as 21 bills per day. That represents an increase of seven bills per day compared with 2002.

For responsible citizens, is it a good thing that legislators are passing more laws on average each year? Passing more bills in the same 45-day session means that legislators have less time to analyze, vet and discuss each piece of legislation. Just as importantly, if not more, responsible citizens have less time and fewer opportunities to scrutinize proposed laws and communicate their views to elected officials.

Is this trend good for Utah because legislators are being more “productive,” or is it bad because it is speeding up a process that should be slow and deliberate?

It seems that more legislative activity usually translates into bigger, more intrusive government; thus, as conservatives, we tend to view this trend as negative. Or is it possible that Utah’s legislators are actually reducing the size of government through the laws they pass?

Liberal-leaning Utahns are probably schizophrenic about this trend: They like that government is more active, and likely growing, but they dislike that a generally conservative legislative body is directing that increased activity.

What do you think?

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