Senator Aaron Osmond (R, South Jordan), the sophomore Senator who last year took over the seat held by Chris Buttars, has just released a bill that could drastically change the way the Utah Legislature works.
Boxcar legislation is all-too common on Utah’s Capitol Hill. The practice involves a legislator opening a bill file with a generic short title, but then holding it back until late in the legislative session before giving it language. This allows legislators to pull bills out at the last minute, when the Legislature is at its busiest moments. Sometimes boxcars can produce good legislation, responses to issues that have arisen during the session, but they can also produce the worst legislation (think the Anti-Transparency HB 477 a few years ago).
Senator Osmond is seeking to change the legislative process, and outright ban all boxcar legislation. SJR 3 says that no legislator can open a new bill following the second Monday in January (two weeks before the beginning of the session), unless a constitutional majority of both the House and the Senate approve a motion to draft and introduce the bill or resolution. It also states that any bill that is opened and given a short title, must be accompanied by a written statement on the Legislature’s website which describes the objectives and provisions of the bill.
“The primary motive for the bill is that my constituents feel that the legislative process is not transparent enough.” says Senator Osmond. “Often, bad legislation happens because the public or us as legislators don’t have time to examine it. Holding bills to the end of the session and then cramming them through creates that non-transparent environment.”
Senator Osmond is arguing that it is crucial to give the public better access to the legislative process, something that he feels has been missing in past years.
“I was not pleased when the Utah Legislature was rated as one of the least transparent last year, I believe we deserve better than that.”
Big changes to the legislative process are notoriously difficult to pass, and Osmond’s bill could have a difficult time making it out of the powerful Senate Rules Committee, let alone be debated on the Senate floor.
“It’s true, some of my more senior colleagues don’t like it because it removes some of their flexibility. But many others are [supporting it] because they like the idea of a more publicly-accessible system.”
Representative Curt Oda (R), who sits on the House Rules Committee hasn’t seen the bill, but says he has some concerns about the idea. “I can’t say for sure whether or not I’d support it yet, but there are legitimate purposes for boxcars. Maybe you know of something coming up for a constituent, but you don’t know what you need to do on it yet. Boxcars have been around since the beginning of the Utah Legislature and I’m not sure eliminating them will do anything for transparency.”
Overall, Osmond gives his bill a 50/50 chance of actually passing. “I recognize that I’m a sophomore legislator up here. I have the greatest respect for my colleagues, and while 95% of what we do is in the best interest of the people, sometimes bad things slip through and I believe we can do a better job. Personally, I can’t see how this couldn’t pass, but who knows – maybe it will hit a brick wall.”