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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  • Luke E. Dalton — Ogden

    I consider myself to be conservative — although by Utah’s extreme standards I’m probably a flaming liberal.  I’ve served twice as a delegate to the Republican state convention, but the last time around I was shouted down in our local caucus because I tried to express some more moderate views and to point out that some claims made by others present were simply false.  Most of those in attendance identified themselves as affiliated with the Tea Party.

    I take strong issue with your last paragraph: “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.”  It is not “liberals” in Utah who are increasing the size and intrusiveness of government in our lives.  It is the extremists — ala Gayle Ruzika and Chris Buttars , Sen. Howard Christiansen, Carl Wimmer, Mike Noel and others who are actually doing so.

    Our legislature is far to beholden to extremists and special interests and not to ordinary people. 

    Blaming “liberals” for government expansion and intrusion into our lives is simply false propaganda.  Bad laws come from all sides.  Especially when one party dominates and uses questionable tactics without regard for basic ethics and honesty to impose the will of those who offer the best financial and power brokering for the individual legislator. 

    It is frightening to see and hear what’s happening around me.  This was dramatically  brought home  to me over a year ago when the conversation in my ward’s High Priest group turned to how much ammunition we need to have stashed away in our family supplies now that “the Mark of Cain is bringing Socialism into the White House.” 

    Although I do respect the Sutherland Institute for its normally more moderate stands on vital issues, I am very worried about what I have come to view as the Utah Taliban as those on the extreme right fringe seem to be gaining more and more power.

  • Strider

    Can’t resist.  YES the legislature has too much time, and bills, on their hands.  I cite two:  The first had to do with the closure of several State Liquor stores on some kind of everybody must feel the budget knife philosophy.  The hours of operation, number of stores and staffing is purely an administrative issue, legislative “help” is not needed.  I am the child of alcoholic parents, I choose not to use the stuff but it is a legal product, heavily taxed but can be sold at a profit and the State does make a profit for the legal purchase and use.  I think it was bone-headed for who (or is it whom?) ever took the time to propose and run this bill, shame on those who supported this one.  Second was the dim bulb legislator who had the time to consider the specialty tag decal problem and ran a bill requiring a minimum number of participants in order to get a specialty plate.  This too, is an administrative issue.  The cost to the state is the decal, and if the group has a logo designed and will fund the cost Who Cares!  There must be more examples but these seem to ring out the loudest. 

    The sad part of citizen legislators and legislatures is the ability to focus on minutia and ignore the hard stuff – like adequate highway maintenance funding, local Justice Court reform and maybe an extensive audit of UTA for cost to benefit ratio.  How much does it really cost to ride the Bus, Traxx or Frontrunner?

  • Daniel Rush

    Yes, they do.  Conservatives try to gauge the size of government by the amount of money it spends, but in reality you can also gauge a government’s size and reach by how involved they are in the lives of their citizens.  500+ laws is way too much government involvement.  In most cases,  it means more rules, regulations, and stipulations over all people.  To put it into perspective, 500 news laws per year is 5,000 in a decade and 50,000 in a century.   500+ laws is also symptomatic of an unhealthy debate process for each law (indicative of a one-party state).  How many of these laws cost the state millions in litigation costs that could have been avoided if a healthy debate centered around each law in order to expose its flaws and unintended consequences?  Just some food for thought.  

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