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The Utah legislative session could get longer by at least two-and-a-half weeks under a proposal being kicked around at the Utah Capitol.
The Utah Constitution now says the Legislature can only meet for 45 days. But lawmakers don't currently meet on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, although they do get paid for those days.
A change recommended by the Legislative Process Committee on Monday would change it to 45 business days that would have to fall within a 90-calendar-day period.
That would essentially add 13 working days to the legislative session each year where bills could be heard and voted on. It would also mean the session would go until at least the end of March and could run through the end of April.
"As the dynamics of the state have grown population, size of budget, time demands, and so on the Legislature tries earnestly to do the public's business in the same amount of time, and there's a lot more business to do," Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville, said.
The result, Brown said, is that bills aren't getting fully vetted and debated, many don't get committee hearings, and legislators have to vote on them without having time to read them.
"Yeah we're doing quantity, but not quality," Brown said. "I know the first thing that's going to be said … 'Why do we want to give them more days? They do enough damage in 45.' And legitimately so. We do a lot of damage in 45 because we're not doing the public's work like we ought to."
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, who was a legislative attorney in the 1980s before becoming a legislator, said over that time she has seen bills getting less scrutiny.
"We pass a lot of bills that people don't read, that we don't do the job we should be doing," Arent said. "If we can find a way to give us more time to do that appropriately, maybe [Brown] has come up with a good idea."
Any change to the length of the session would require an amendment to the Constitution on the 2016 ballot, which would have to be approved by voters before it could take effect for the 2017 session.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said that his concern is that, if a dozen days are added to the session, it would just increase the number of bills and legislators would still end up scrambling to beat the clock at the end of the session.
Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, was the lone vote against changing the session. He said he was concerned that, with a citizen Legislature, it would be difficult for many to leave their jobs for an extra two-and-a-half weeks each year.
The committee will send the proposal to a committee of legislative leaders for consideration. It would then have to be approved by the Legislature and put on the 2016 ballot to make the change.
The Process Committee also suggested ways to limit the number of so-called "protected bills" that lawmakers can carry.
A legislator can ask staff attorneys to draft bills while keeping the bill secret until the second week of the session.
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of protected bills and critics say it limits public scrutiny and input.
Defenders of the practice say protecting a bill lets a lawmaker do research and polish an idea that may not be ready for public scrutiny.