Utah Gov. Spencer Cox vetoed seven bills before the Thursday night deadline. He expects the Legislature to call a special session to override at least some of his decisions.

His vetoes centered around bills he thinks could have been solved with a “phone call” or that deal with the governor’s “ability to work closely with the Legislature,” Cox said early Thursday at his monthly PBS press conference.

But Cox’s biggest worry is not with a particular bill. State legislators have been passing too many bills each session, Cox said.

The 2024 Legislative work period saw lawmakers introduce nearly a thousand bills and pass a record 591 during the state’s short 45-day legislative session. The total exceeded last year’s record of 575 bills which was already a significant increase from most sessions.

“My greatest concern with this legislative session is just the sheer number of bills,” Cox said. “We haven’t added an extra 20% of days to work on those bills and I think we start to see the quality suffer a little bit.”

In a veto letter sent to Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, and House Speaker Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, the governor said his vetoes were meant to be “instructive” as to the kinds of bills lawmakers should avoid so they can focus on bigger issues.

Cox vetoed five bills that would have required state agencies to make policy changes that had either already been implemented or did not require new state code. Cox vetoed two more, one relating to accident liability and another to a study for higher education, that he said no longer achieved their original goals because of changes made during the legislative process.

“Sometimes, instead of trying to pass something, the best result is to regroup and consider another run at the issue down the road,” Cox wrote in the letter.

Cox also said he would allow two bills he disagreed with to go into effect without signing them because of their overwhelming support in the Legislature. The first creates new incentives for the film industry in Utah and the other establishes a pilot program to study Psilocybin drugs.

This year, Utah lawmakers passed more bills than ever before despite Adams and Schultz committing during the session to not break last year’s record. In his letter, Cox included a table showing how over the last 21 years the number of bills passed each session by the Utah Legislature has increased from the high 300s in 2005 and 2006, to around 500 in the 2010′s, to nearly 600 in 2024.

The governor asked legislative leadership to work to bring the number down to the “high 400s.”

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at his monthly news conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 21, 2024. | Trent Nelson

During Thursday’s press conference Cox said lawmakers have always been able to introduce as many bills as they want but that a “cultural piece” has changed in recent years that needs to be addressed so lawmakers “start to focus on the more substantive pieces (of legislation).”

“There’s so many great bills that were passed this session,” Cox said. “But I think there is some self-selection that could be helpful. We can be a little more discerning about what really needs to be done.”

The volume of bills passed has made the governor’s job of vetting each piece of legislation more difficult because the 20-day period he has to sign or veto bills has not been extended, Cox said, adding he has been forced to forego other gubernatorial duties in order to review the bills in time.

Cox said he has asked the Legislature each year to slow down and decrease the number of bills they consider and pass.

“It’s impossible for citizens of Utah, it’s impossible for me, and you in the media, to really understand all the bills that passed,” he said.

However, Cox has previously said his goal is to veto as few bills as possible, even if he doesn’t completely agree with them. On Thursday he said high profile vetoes are rarely needed because his office is so involved in legislative negotiations during the session and that lawmakers often agree to work on problematic legislation over the interim based on suggestions from the governor.

Cox said overusing his veto would hinder his ability to pass his own priorities and would result in the Republican supermajority overriding his vetoes more often. But Cox also said he would “never sign something that I thought did lasting harm to Utah.”

The governor signed two of the session’s most controversial bills, dealing with diversity, equity and inclusion programs in public institutions and privacy laws in gender-specific restrooms, at the beginning of the session.

On Thursday, Cox also signed a bill that will give the state greater oversight over the preservation of coal-fired power plants in the state, but he said the bill will need to be fine tuned during a special legislation session “to make sure we get this right.”

Despite the inevitable back-and-forth between lawmakers and the governor’s office, Cox said his relationship with the Legislature is the best he has seen in recent Utah history.

“It’s been an exhausting process,” Cox said. “While we didn’t agree on everything, we appreciate how most legislators respected the process and worked with us to find solutions to some of the most pressing challenges that that are facing our state today.”