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Herald editorial: Utah lawmakers should focus on passing good laws

January 27, 2019

Lagoon doesn’t open until the end of March, so the biggest roller coaster in Utah right now is the state Legislature. For most of the next 45 days, the legislative train will creep slowly up the tracks, click-clacking its way to the top of the ride before plunging off the top and zooming through the last week.

And just like a roller coaster, when the legislative session pulls into the station, riders are left wondering exactly what happened after lawmakers approved hundreds of bills in the relative blink of an eye. Utahns often have to dig to figure out what the Legislature actually accomplished in its mad sprint to the finish line.

The crazy thing is that the legislative session always appears to be a leisurely stroll in the park for most of the session. There are committee hearings here and there and bills get passed around (with some getting shuffled into circular filing cabinets). As the session winds down, lawmakers become like a family with only two hours left at Disneyland — trying to cram everything in before the park closes.

Instead of trying to pass every law under the sun, we hope lawmakers focus on passing well-reasoned measures that benefit Utahns. This should include spending less time on relatively frivolous legislation like ditching daylight saving time or letting drivers run red lights when no one’s around. Lawmakers should also avoid passing questionable laws that they know will draw lawsuits that will cost taxpayers money. However, we understand that some bills, like on abortion restrictions, may be a matter of conscience for some.

Lawmakers should dedicate more time to working out the kinks on important reforms, like the tax code. Sometimes, these proposals looked hashed together at the last minute — because they probably are — and there’s not enough time to fully consider the implications of the proposals until everyone’s gone home and the bills are waiting for the governor’s signature. The end result is not unlike cheap, unreliable wares offered at discount retailers like Walmart — they look like a deal, but need to be replaced after a short while.

There are some large issues facing the Legislature this session — including reforming sales and income taxes. These proposals need full airings, especially so taxpayers can see how they may be impacted.

Lawmakers also seem willing to revisit measures approved by voters in the most recent election — including Medicaid expansion and redistricting reform. While legislators have already tweaked the will of the people by replacing voter-approved medical cannabis reform, we urge the Legislature to use a light hand when countering their bosses — voters.

Redistricting reform and Medicaid expansion were approved by voters after years of relative inaction by the Legislature. November’s election showed that many voters feel that lawmakers aren’t hearing them on these important issues. People should be concerned if lawmakers are going to do an end run around the electorate.

At the same time, it’s not unreasonable for lawmakers to review and amend voter-approved laws to better implement voters’ wishes. It’s a matter of intent — we’ve too often seen lawmakers act contrary to the electorate. If the Legislature acts in the clearly expressed interests of voters, the next 45-day roller coaster may not be a scary ride.

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