Utah Lawmakers Say Longer Sessions and Expanded Public Access Should Be Explored

 

wpid-ed-approps-1-and-2-009.jpegLawmakers met Monday in the Legislative Process Committee to explore ideas to improve the legislative process for both elected officials and the public.

Representative Patrice Arent (D, Millcreek), cited the trend of important legislation being pushed to the end of legislative sessions, and citizens not being able to respond to important legislation, as reasons to either extend the annual legislative session past the current 45 day limit, hire more staff, and/or reduce the number of bills a lawmaker is allowed to introduce and prioritize as viable options for improving the current process.

Representative Jim Nielson (R, Bountiful) was strongly opposed to the idea and suggested, rather than expanding the length of the session, the state actually reduce the session to 30 days – his logic being that lawmakers will always wait until the end of the session to attempt to pass important legislation. Deadlines, he argued, is motivation enough to pass laws, regardless of the time they have to work within.

Additionally, Arent noted that the Office of Legislative Research and General Council—the office tasked with writing bills and amendments as well as responding citizen requests by way of lawmakers—is overworked due to the sheer scope of the office. Because of this, Arent floated the idea of an office specifically designed to respond to requests from the public.

Senator Steve Urquhart (R, St. George) added to this increased concern for public involvement, proposing that all legislative materials, including amendments to bills and committee materials, be available before the start of floor debate or a committee hearing. Currently, written amendments can be introduced and inserted into legislation without the public being made aware that a change could potentially take place.

Before the end of the meeting, Nielson also proposed passage of a resolution similar to HR 1, a resolution Nielson unsuccessfully pushed for during the 2013 session. HR 1 would, in short, allow for lawmakers to abstain from voting when a conflict of interest existed. Currently, lawmakers are required by law to vote on any and every bill on the docket unless they are excused and off of the hill—regardless of whether or not they have an obvious conflict of interest, such as the owner of a day care company voting on whether or not special tax breaks should be given to day cares..

This is the first of several meetings designed to take place over the coming year designed to address the issues surrounding the backlog of legislation and overflow. The suggestions that take place over the following months will ultimately be formed into legislation next January.

This Wednesday, the full legislature will be meeting for interim.




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