Some Legislators Want 60-day Sessions

Some Legislators Want 60-day Sessions

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Some legislators feel Utah's 45-day legislative sessions are too short for process about 600 bills and balance a $7.5 billion budget. They're talking about making the sessions 60 days.

Sen. Ron Allen, D-Stansbury Park, said Utah's special sessions often are necessary because last-minute legislation sometimes is passed with little understanding of its ramifications.

In 2002, legislators held six special sessions, most of which were to correct budget shortfalls. This year, legislators have held one special session with another planned for Nov. 19.

Others, concerned with their constituents' demands for accountability, believe legislators need either more staff or more paid time.

"There's a new generation coming up that's going to demand more," Rep. Morgan Philpot, R-Midvale, told the committee. "You need to address the change and help (other legislators) recognize that it's going to happen."

Rep. Steve Mascaro, R-West Jordan, believes his proposal for taking an unpaid break in middle of the session would give legislators time to reconnect with constituents and families and also give them time to digest complicated legislation.

"It would give us time to take a deep breath before getting into the final two weeks of the session," he told the committee.

The Legislative Process Committee agreed last week to pass his suggestion, which would require a constitutional amendment, to the management committee. It also forwarded a letter suggesting adding two more appropriation interim meetings to help legislators deal with increasingly complex budgets.

Rep. Lou Shurtliff, D-Ogden, likes Mascaro's idea. Crowded with issues from the bank-and-credit-union fight and tuition tax credits to seat belt laws, the education reform bill and a trimmed budget, last session was a difficult one, Shurtliff said. On the flip side, taking off two weeks during the Olympics left her refreshed and ready to tackle state business again.

"It moves slowly in the beginning. Then all of a sudden some of the big bills come out in the third or fourth week with only two weeks to process them," she said. "A break would give you more time to read them and talk to constituents."

Not all want to make the session longer. Some feel it's a slippery slope that could lead to a full-time Legislature.

"Forty-five days is plenty of time," said Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City. "I like the way we do it now. It's quite efficient and doesn't give us time to goof around."

He said the time constraints stop some of the more ludicrous bills.

Jenkins is less certain how he feels about Mascaro's proposal.

He said a break might be refreshing but said going straight through has its pluses.

"It's crazy, but once you get on to it, you seem to be able to handle it," Jenkins said.

Senate Assistant Majority Whip Pete Knudson said the Republican leadership has kicked around the idea of changing the session's structure but so far has taken no position. He said he personally is opposed to both.

"I don't think we need a break," the Brigham City orthodontist said. "Forty-five days isn't going to kill anyone."

Knudson said most legislators would just spend the week off at their jobs.

"Because it's mainly a citizen Legislature, it affords many the opportunity to serve," he said, adding that more days would make that harder.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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