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?