Should the Utah Legislative Session be Longer?

Should the Utah Legislative Session be Longer?
By John Mayer from Santa Barbara, United States (Saved Photos-55) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
This past week the Legislative Process Committee recommended extending the legislative session.  Currently the session runs 45 continuous days, that count including weekends.  The committee expressed concerns over the often rushed decision-making process, and the lack of time they have to fully vet all bills.  These concerns are valid, but is the answer a longer session?

No.

The answer lies in other reforms, such as:

Requiring all bills to have two committee hearings

This seems counter intuitive.  Legislative committees take time.  But by requiring bills to have two hearings it forces two actions.  First, it forces prioritization of bills.  Suddenly resolutions highlighting [pick a disease] awareness seem less important than bills with substantial policy changes.  Second, by requiring two committee hearings legislators will stop playing the waiting game.  One very common tactic is for legislators to purposely hold their bills just long enough that they only receive one committee hearing, and are then rushed through the opposing body near the end of the session.  It happens.  This practice not only limits the public’s ability to comment, but also for the bill to be thoroughly vetted by the body.  In the long run stopping this practice will lead to less legislation in the future as well, because not as many ‘clean up’ bills will be needed if they can be passed right the first time.

Not spending the first week of the session in appropriations committees

Last session the legislature decided to spend the first week in appropriations committees really delving into their section of the budget.  It was a snooze-fest.  Legislators quickly learned that while their budget’s are millions of dollars, there is very little flexibility in spending.  Sen. Stevenson, the Executive Appropriations Co-Chair,  is fond of saying that 90% of the budget is spent before the session starts, and they spend all their time squabbling about the last 10%.  There is a lot of truth to that statement.

After a full week spent on appropriations hearings, legislators had less time to get their bills through standing committees.  This led to an incredible amount of bills passed the last week of the session.  In fact, according to Adam Brown a whopping 45% of the bills heard last session had their final vote during the session’s last two days.

Limiting Guests

Do all of our sitting Congressmen really need to each be given floor time one day?  No.  What about famous people visiting Utah?  Nope.  What about Ronald McDonald or the Jazz Bear? Not them either.  The State of the Judiciary seems a little more applicable, as law/budget changes may be needed to be made to address the courts’ concerns.  But overall these guests can meet, speak, answer questions, and generally socialize with legislators outside of the session.

Finally, if the above ideas do not work, here are a few more ‘unconventional’ ideas to consider that may speed things up:

  • Install trap doors, at the buzzer legislators still pontificating disappear to the basement.
  • Limit Rep. LaVar Christensen to only one soliloquy per week.
  • Allow former Rep. John Dougall to still call the question, effectively cutting off debate.
  • Ban all bills dealing with water rights.
  • Have Rep. Mike Noel write down his protest speeches and give them numbers – then he can simply rise and ask everyone to please refer to the applicable numbered speech.
  • Give the Sergeant of Arms cattle prods to use when rounding up legislators.
  • Speed up the tempo on the House voting chimes to create a sense of urgency.
  • Have the Senate vote electronically and/or turn up their hearing aids.
  • Serve only double shot Diet Coke.

And the most outlandish suggestion of them all: start committee meetings on time.

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