More days equals more damage from the Utah Legislature

In just under 70 days the Utah State Legislature will meet for its annual 45-day session. There is a move among some legislators to push for a longer session.

Utah has one of the shortest sessions in the country. We have a calendar-day session, meaning that once you take out weekends and holidays we are left with only 32 actual working days. Only one state, Alabama, has a shorter session at 30 days and a couple other states hold shorter sessions on odd years but make up for it with longer sessions on even years.

The proposal by Representative Mel Brown and supported by the Legislative Process Committee is to change the session to a 45-working day session–in other words, counting weekends and holidays, the session would be 13 days longer–extending it through the end of March and possibly into April.

Since the session length is constitutionally mandated, such a change would require amending the Utah State Constituion so the earliest this could happen would be for the 2017 session.

But it is an interesting idea with both pros and cons.

As Utah has grown in population, demands on the legislature have increased and many legislators lament the limited amount of time to deal with the growing number of bills proposed each year. Bills are often not given the amount of time they deserve as they are pushed through the session.

Legislators would be wise to consider additional rules around legislation if they decide to support increasing the length of the session.

However, there is also the potential for any additional time to simply be eaten up by an ever-increasing number of bills.

Year over year we’ve seen a rising number of bills and this year shows no sign of being any different. If already opened bill files are any indication, we’re poised to set a new record, yet again.

So, is it a good idea or a bad idea to extend the session?

If legislators are willing to curb the number of bills they propose–choosing to focus on the most important issues and drop the message bills they are so fond of but that eat up valuable session time, then an increased session might be a good idea. Allowing more time for legislators to read and consider bills and for constituents to make their voices heard, is a good thing.

But if the additional time simply means an increase in message bills and wasted time tilting at windmills, then an additional 13 days would simply give them more time to do more damage.

The Better UTAH Beat airs Tuesday afternoons on KVNU’s For the People. Podcasts of previous episodes are available here.

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