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There are too many bills. Many ‘could have been a phone call,’ says Gov. Cox

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at his monthly news conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 21, 2024.
Trent Nelson
The Salt Lake Tribune, pool
Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at his monthly news conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 21, 2024.

Update: Gov. Cox vetoed seven bills and issued line-item vetoes on two other bills as the deadline approached. Our original story continues below.

There were 591 bills passed by the Utah Legislature during the 2024 session. And Gov. Spencer Cox has only 20 days to review, sign or veto. That’s a lot of work.

While he was coy with reporters in his March news conference about which bills he would veto, he did say he was concerned with “the sheer number of bills” approved by lawmakers, some of which “don’t do anything.”

“We like to joke that we have a meeting that could have been an email,” he said with a smile. “We often get bills that could have been a phone call.”

Cox pointed to his one term as a lawmaker in the House as a comparison to the speed at which the Legislature moves these days. In 2012, he said reaching 500 new bills was a “rarity.” Now, it’s become the norm but there isn’t an “extra 20% of days to work on those bills.” As a result, “we start to see the quality suffer a little bit.”

So if he feels that there are too many bills, a reporter asked, why not veto more?

“I think there's better ways to do that than just the veto pen,” was his response.

Cox doesn’t think it would be productive to nix all the bills he would like to because “the more you veto, the more likely you are to get overridden.” He emphasized he has a “great relationship” with the Legislature and hopes both branches work together to be “more thoughtful” and allot “more time” to priority bills moving forward.

The Legislature approved a record number of bills and some of the most contentious ones have already been signed. But Cox has signaled that he’ll sign less high-profile legislation, including a bill targeting the workflow of the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office.

The bill was passed on the last night of the session. It requires the district attorney’s office, which is led by elected Democratic District Attorney Sim Gill, to report what they are working on in 12-minute increments. It also gives the governor the power to remove the Salt Lake County District Attorney from office if he sees fit. Democrats called the bill “vindictive,” since it singles out the state’s only one blue district attorney. Republicans have expressed concern that Gill isn’t doing enough to prosecute criminals, or is releasing them too early

Cox said it was “fair” for lawmakers to inquire about the inner workings of the office, especially as the state “is going to be invested in a way that they've never been invested before” within the county, referring to the potential construction of a Major League Baseball stadium and downtown Salt Lake City facelift to attract a National Hockey League team.

“We don't want to put an unnecessary burden that doesn't actually help or solve the problem,” he said. “What you'll see over the course of the year is the Legislature working together with my office and the county as well to figure out what exactly is it that that's the concern.”

The law won’t go into effect until July of next year, which means changes to the bill could be negotiated and implemented during the 2025 legislative session.

Cox said he also plans to sign SB161, another disputed bill related to energy. It deals with keeping a coal-fired power plant in Delta operating, even as there are plans to close it. The bill paves the way for the state to purchase the plant, despite the declining national interest in coal-generated energy.

“At a time [when] we're looking to close down facilities, I think we should be cautious about that.”

Cox did mention that there is a “fairly strong possibility” that a special session will be called before July to make “some tweaks to the law,” although he did not specify what those changes would be.

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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