Record Number of Bills in Utah’s 2017 Legislative Session

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser (Republican – Sandy) shares a laugh with reporters during Thursday’s Senate Briefing

On Thursday Senate President Wayne Niederhauser (Republican – Sandy) made a surprising announcement to the Utah press corps eager to question Utah’s lawmakers. “We had a record number of bill files opened for this session,” all of which are rolling through the “sausage-making” process up until Thursday, March 9th at midnight – when lawmakers will adjourn sine die for another year.

As of day 11 of 45, lawmakers have numbered 1,272 bills for filing (shattering the 10 year average of 876 and more than 30 percent higher than the previous record of 929 set in 2011). Neiderhauser admitted that many files were empty and represented anticipated efforts on topics that haven’t seen any further action, drafting or fiscal analysis. “I closed one [file] today because I couldn’t recall why I’d opened it,” quipped Niederhauser who represents several affluent portions of Salt Lake County and its many constituents in Sandy, Alta, and Cottonwood Heights in addition to moving virtually all bills through the process with his leadership.

Governor Gary Herbert (Republican) weighed-in on the subject later the same day by saying, “It seems like a lot to me but I’m not going to fault the legislature for trying to do their job.”

Herbert also invoked the memory of a former Utah House Speaker, the late Becky Lockhart: “She made the remark to her own body and then as an aggregate group to the legislature, ‘we’re passing too many bills and the Governor should veto more of them,'” recalled Herbert. He immediately followed the remark by saying, He didn’t want to place any limitations on the legislators “who do a fine job at representing the people of Utah.” On the record-breaking workload, Herbert continued to say, “They ought to make sure they’re more selective and that the bills are done correctly in the beginning so we don’t have to veto bills.”

When asked if the sheer number of bills represented an additional burden on staff or the clerks who must work quickly to get the bills moving toward becoming law, Niederhauser said that he didn’t believe that additional resources were required to get the work done before the end of the session. He credited those who work steadily and effectively to advance the work. By law, Utah’s legislative session is held to 45 consecutive calendar days, allowing part-time lawmakers to tend to other work and businesses for the rest of the year.

Utah Political Capitol asked Governor Gary Herbert if 1,272 bill files were too many. His response on audio below.

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