The Utah State Legislature is breaking records

Posted at 6:13 PM, Dec 15, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY -- The 2016 Utah State Legislature could be the biggest in history.

Not necessarily because of the issues, but because of how many bills state lawmakers are filing.

"Last year, we had a record number of bills that were filed. More than 1,200. With the pace that we're on, we'll exceed that," House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, told FOX 13 on Tuesday.

With that many bills expected, the House Speaker said he expected there would be more scrutiny of the legislation that was being proposed for the 45-day legislative session that begins in January.

"The vetting of bills and the bills that will get that finite time will be more critical and crucial this coming session than ever before," he said.

On Tuesday, the Legislative Management Committee met to prioritize bills that were debated over the past year in interim committees. Interim committees focused more on specific issues -- hearing hours of debate.

Education is expected to be the biggest budget item, but Tuesday's meeting provided a glimpse into other big legislative issues:

  • Draft legislation is being considered for educator professional development, as well as revisiting student testing requirements;
  • Psychotropic drugs may wind up on a preferred drug list under a bill advanced by the Health and Human Services Interim Committee;
  • Lawmakers will likely consider two bills dealing with medical marijuana. Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said his bill was advanced by the interim committee. Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, was also working on his own that he claimed would offer patients better treatment options;
  • The Judiciary Interim Committee advanced a bill that would deal with civil forfeiture laws, requiring more of a link between the property and a criminal action. The committee also advanced a bill dealing with criminal record expungement;
  • Repealing the death penalty may not be taken up in the 2016 session. Sen. Madsen acknowledged they discussed it in interim, but did not indicate whether a bill was being drafted;
  • Earmarks on sales taxes may be repealed (with the exception of transportation), if some legislation advances in the 2016 session. It was discussed in Tuesday's meeting, but the interim committee did not recommend a bill;
  • There may be legislation requiring body cameras for police officers, as well as bills that address police use of force. The Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee did not recommend any specific legislation, but noted some may be filed;
  • Funding for mental health programs was deemed "critical" by Rep. Don Ipson, R-St. George, who said it was part of an overall shift in the state to reform the criminal justice system;
  • Air quality and water issues are expected to be addressed during the session;
  • Health care and Medicaid expansion may be addressed again, but not to the level of the past session.

Lawmakers are not prohibited from filing their own bills, despite what any committee or even legislative leadership thinks about it. However, the Rules Committee determines what bills make it to hearings for a vote.