On the 30th day of the Legislature, the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel is like the store that stays open late on Christmas Eve or the post office branch that's open until midnight on April 15 to accept income tax returns.
Tuesday was the last day Utah lawmakers could file new bills and resolutions, and true to past practice a flurry of proposed laws was filed at the last minute.Of the total number of bills filed each year, only about a third become part of Utah law. The rest are defeated, die lingering deaths in the Rules Committee or, because of time constraints, never reach their house of origin. "Not every bill requested gets introduced, either," director Richard Strong said.
Last year, lawmakers requested a record 1,209 bills. This year, Strong said, legislators did not surpass the 1990 total but have requested 1,119 bills thus far.
"We're about 100 less than last year, which was an all-time rec-ord for the state. It won't be surpassed, but we'll be close to it," Strong said.
At the end of the fourth week of the session, the Legislature had passed 67 bills - the most since the office began compiling statistics since 1986. More than half of the bills passed this session were resolutions that memorialized governors and legislators who died since the last session, honored the men and women serving in Operation Desert Storm and even a recommendation that Congress enact a bill that designates 1.4 million acres as wilderness in Utah.
"There's no question more resolutions have passed through the Legislature at this time than in prior years," Strong said.
But House Majority leader Rob Bishop, R-Brigham City, said one reason the bills are slowly winding their way through the system is that the House and Senate handled big issues early in the session. Abortion legislation incited considerable debate.
"I think we've done harder issues that consumed time," Bishop said.
Another bottleneck was the lengthy House debate Jan. 26 whether to expel Rep. Dionne Halverson, D-Ogden, from its membership. Instead, the body censured her, but she resigned a week later.
Minority Leader Frank Pignanelli, D-Salt Lake, said he believes the bills have been flowing through the system at a rate comparable to previous years.
"What I'm concerned about is we have two weeks left in the session and we don't have a damn solution to AMAX," Pignanelli said, referring to the complex property-tax dilemma facing the state.
To help conserve time, lawmakers have agreed to limit floor debate on resolutions to one minute each.
Yet the House spent nearly three hours debating an animal-cruelty bill during Tuesday's morning and afternoon sessions. And House Speaker Craig Moody, half-joking, commented the House might get through only two or three more bills if it worked into the night.
Although Tuesday was the last "official" day to file bills, Strong said legislators can introduce new legislation up until midnight of the last day of the session.
"Yes, you can get an extension on your filing simply by getting the body to agree," Strong said. The House requires a two-thirds majority vote. In the Senate, a simple majority is required. "You can get it in if you can swing it."
Though statistics compiled over the past five years show a steady increase in the number of bills filed over the past six years, even Strong won't know until Feb. 27 if the trend will continue.
One thing is certain, however: The later a bill is filed, the less chance it will pass. Said Strong: "Logic tells you if you get in the first day opposed to the 31st day, some of them will get through. If it comes in late, it's got to be pretty neat and well-packaged to make it through the system."