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Bottleneck Of Bill Requests Has Legislative Staff Scrambling

Julia Ritchey
Members of the Utah House convene during the 2017 session.

State lawmakers are grappling with ways to deal with a glut of bill requests just days before the start of the 2018 legislative session.

Last year was a record year for the number of bills lawmakers proposed, and this year is well on track to break that record.

“The number of bill requests keeps increasing,” said the Legislature's General Counsel John Fellows this week. “And we’re over 1,200 — around 1,233 bill requests right now.”

Fellows shared his staff’s woes in trying to keep up with the demand to the Legislative Process Committee on Tuesday at the Capitol.

Legislative leaders have told the state’s drafting attorneys to focus on priority bills. Each lawmaker gets three of those each session. But that still adds up to 312 bills, just a fraction of the total requested.

State Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, said the problem is that current rules encourage lawmakers to get in line early with generic bill files known as "boxcars," which don’t require any specific details or language.

“I’m guilty as everyone else — maybe not everybody else — but I do it, too,” she said. “But we do it because that’s what we’re incentivized to do.”  

The committee made several recommendations to begin to tackle the problem this session. One motion passed suggests listing total number of active bill files by a lawmaker to increase transparency.

Another idea would be to make lawmakers drill down the language and subject area of their bill before opening it — essentially eliminating boxcars.

The full Legislature will have a chance to vote on any changes during the session beginning Monday.


Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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