Would limits on number of bills improve Legislature’s work?

After six consecutive years of passing more bills than the year before, the Utah Legislature passed fewer bills this year. In 2012, lawmakers passed 478 bills (including resolutions) out of a total 891 bills filed – 26 fewer passed and 38 fewer filed than in 2011.

Before this year, the number of bills passed each year had climbed by an average of 5.3 percent since 2006, after declining by an average of 2.8 percent each year from 1998 to 2005.

Why had the number of bills been increasing so quickly since 2006, and why did the number decrease this year? Did the Legislature reach a saturation point, or is it natural for bill totals to rise and fall depending on other circumstances? Should Utahns be concerned about the recent relatively steep increase in bills filed and passed? 

Rep. Craig Frank (R-Pleasant Grove) ran a bill this year that would have limited each legislator to opening five bill files per year, with a fairly long list of exceptions. During a House Rules Committee meeting, Frank expressed his concern that “we burden our staff tremendously” with the number of bills filed, saying that a five-bill limit is a “rational, reasonable number.”

Reaction from committee members was mixed.

Reps. John Mathis (R-Vernal) and Mike Morley (R-Spanish Fork) voiced concerns that the rule change could decrease constituent involvement in the advocacy process and restrict legislators’ ability to represent their constituents adequately. Morley said that, as with term limits, this issue is one that individual representatives must address on their own.

Rep. Larry Wiley (D-West Valley City) said he likes Frank’s idea but struggles with it and isn’t ready to embrace it, and Rep. Neal Hendrickson (D-West Valley City) said because Utah senators were unlikely to limit the number of bills they pass, restricting House bills could end up overburdening the Senate.

After healthy discussion, the proposal failed to pass the committee on a 4-4-1 vote.

In other states, many legislative bodies do limit bill totals. For example, Coloradohas a five-bill limit per legislator for its 120 days in session; Florida’s House limits representatives to six bills for its 60 days in session; and Nebraska’s Senate has an eight-bill limit for its 60 or 90 days in session. States that limit bill filings usually provide several exceptions and have a process for bypassing their rules if necessary (see state bill limitations here and session lengths here).

Should Utah legislators limit the number of bills they can file and pass?

Does more legislative activity automatically translate into bigger, more intrusive government, or is it possible that Utah legislators, because they tend to lean conservative, pass laws that actually reduce the size and scope of government?

Finally, would limiting the number of bills lead to a more deliberative legislative process, and, if so, would more deliberation increase the quality of legislation as well as citizen involvement?

What do you think?

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  • Laura M. Warburton

    Any time I hear ‘limit’ in the political process, my eyes start burning.  I would no sooner limit bills than I would limit terms.  Both would be telling the citizens what they can and cannot do.  Representatives are still citizens.  Most of us forget they are even human, but they are; human and citizens.  

    There is no doubt the vortex created by our 45 day session needs a vent to relieve pressure.  What is the most effective, fair, constitutional solution?  

    What do most American’s do all year long with their diet?  They worry, try, withhold, join gyms, etc and so forth.  What do they do from the third Thursday in November till January 1st?  Gorge!  They’ve denied themselves all year long and then they just go crazy. They tell themselves they only have a month or so to let themselves freely partake.   Is that healthy?  No!  Wouldn’t it be better to eat a turkey dinner once a month and have pie every now and then, instead?  I think so!  

    All year long, legislators and citizens chomp at the bit waiting, hoping for change by way of a 45 day process.  It exhausts everyone involved.  We gorge on legislation.  

    I think a much better solution is to pass bills all year long.   Spacing it out into three sessions of 15 days each might work.  Ultimately, I believe a smooth consistent process is the answer.  The variables are numerous as are the consequences.  A committee study would be very beneficial.  I hope to see that soon because something needs to change. 

    • Matthew Piccolo

      Thanks for your thoughts, Laura, very good points.  Your idea of having three 15 day sessions is intriguing.  However, I do wonder if having three sessions would result in as much, or even more, legislation as legislators would try to cram in as much as possible during the final day or two of each session. But maybe not.

  • Laura M. Warburton

    Any time I hear ‘limit’ in the political process, my eyes start burning.  I would no sooner limit bills than I would limit terms.  Both would be telling the citizens what they can and cannot do.  Representatives are still citizens.  Most of us forget they are even human, but they are; human and citizens.  

    There is no doubt the vortex created by our 45 day session needs a vent to relieve pressure.  What is the most effective, fair, constitutional solution?  

    What do most American’s do all year long with their diet?  They worry, try, withhold, join gyms, etc and so forth.  What do they do from the third Thursday in November till January 1st?  Gorge!  They’ve denied themselves all year long and then they just go crazy. They tell themselves they only have a month or so to let themselves freely partake.   Is that healthy?  No!  Wouldn’t it be better to eat a turkey dinner once a month and have pie every now and then, instead?  I think so!  

    All year long, legislators and citizens chomp at the bit waiting, hoping for change by way of a 45 day process.  It exhausts everyone involved.  We gorge on legislation.  

    I think a much better solution is to pass bills all year long.   Spacing it out into three sessions of 15 days each might work.  Ultimately, I believe a smooth consistent process is the answer.  The variables are numerous as are the consequences.  A committee study would be very beneficial.  I hope to see that soon because something needs to change. 

    • Matthew Piccolo

      Thanks for your thoughts, Laura, very good points.  Your idea of having three 15 day sessions is intriguing.  However, I do wonder if having three sessions would result in as much, or even more, legislation as legislators would try to cram in as much as possible during the final day or two of each session. But maybe not.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Diane-Robertson/1421813446 Diane Robertson

    It seems like a good idea to me because as I sat in on several committee meetings this past session, I could tell that the legislatures had not read all of the bills, and really had to rely on other people’s opinions. It is nice that there are lots of lobbiers, but I wouldn’t want to be a legislature just because I know that it would be impossible to do all of the study and research required to feel good about a decision on each bill.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Diane-Robertson/1421813446 Diane Robertson

    It seems like a good idea to me because as I sat in on several committee meetings this past session, I could tell that the legislatures had not read all of the bills, and really had to rely on other people’s opinions. It is nice that there are lots of lobbiers, but I wouldn’t want to be a legislature just because I know that it would be impossible to do all of the study and research required to feel good about a decision on each bill.

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