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Legal reviews could be stricken from bills

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Figuring out if proposed new laws are constitutionally troublesome might not be as easy in the future.

Utah lawmakers have drafted legislation to eliminate constitutional review notes from bills.

Without the notes, usually printed at the bottom of bills, the public and lawmakers would not immediately know whether a measure raises constitutional questions.

"Some of us don't want all that information, because we don't know what it means legally anyway," said bill sponsor Rep. Ray Short, R-Holladay. "It really slants a bill."

The Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, which writes bills for the Legislature, attaches the notes as per current state law. Whether legislation has a potential constitutional conflict is the opinion of staff members drawing up the measure.

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-South Cottonwood, argued against the proposed bill, saying the notes provide valuable information to legislators and the public. She said she wants to know whether a law might be challenged in court.

"It's been very helpful to me," said Arent, an attorney.

The Legislative Process Committee Wednesday voted to introduce the bill in the 2001 Legislature. The three Democrats on the panel opposed the move.

Utah is the only state that requires the review notes, Short said.

Under the proposal, only the bill's sponsor would be alerted to possible constitutional conflicts in the form of a confidential memo. Unless the sponsor shares the information, other legislators and the public would have to ask an attorney to evaluate the bill.

Of the 754 bills introduced in the 2000 Legislature, 22 had constitutional review notes. Thirteen of those bills passed. Typically, 1 percent to 3 percent of new legislation carries a note.

The committee's attorney, John Fellows, said he didn't know how many of those approved bills are challenged in court.

Short said he's "really tired" of judges making decisions on proposed new laws before the Legislature can get to them.

"We should pass what we think is good policy," added committee co-chairman Sen. Leonard Blackham, R-Moroni.

Arent said lawmakers do a better job with as much information as possible and they shouldn't ignore the wisdom of its legislative research analysts and attorneys.

"I think we are willing to push the envelope," she said. "I just want to do that knowledgably."


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