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Utah lawmakers head home as session ends

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 15, 2013 at 2:12 am •  Published: March 15, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers are heading home after their 45-day session ended at midnight Thursday, with lawmakers working out last-minute agreements to relocate the Utah State Prison, change the state's liquor laws and fix a gap in state election law so the Attorney General would not investigate himself.

The late fix for the state election law allows the lieutenant governor to bypass sending an elections complaint to the attorney general to investigate if it concerns the attorney general himself.

That conflict was revealed last week after a progressive political group filed a complaint with the Utah lieutenant governor's office alleging Attorney General John Swallow violated election law by failing to report several business interests on his campaign disclosures.

Swallow's campaign consultant says the complaint is without merit.

Lawmakers were notified of the conflict Tuesday and passed a bill on their last day that addressed it by allowing the lieutenant governor to bring in outside counsel to investigate.

Beyond those late-hour negotiations, the session was fairly quiet, with few protests or entrenched battles over legislation.

"It was very calm— some would say boring," House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart said Thursday afternoon.

Gov. Gary Herbert, agreed, saying members of the Legislature, which is dominated by Republicans, had worked well together.

"There's not been a lot of drama up here," Herbert said.

Democratic leaders said Thursday that while they had fewer lawmakers in their party this year, they felt they were still able to be effective and get some of their causes to the governor.

Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, cited her bill that aims to curb dating violence by allowing victims to obtain a protective order as an example. The legislation has been proposed several times in recent years, and after some long debates, it won final approval in the Legislature.

This year was marked by an influx of freshman lawmakers, the most in the past 20 years, which legislative leaders say got things off to a slow start as lawmakers introduced fewer bills in the first month than they had in the past decade.

But by noon on the last day, the Legislature had passed 447 bills, on track to be the highest number in the past 13 years. The late wave of legislation left a lot to be considered in the final days, with lawmakers churning through dozens of pieces of legislation.

"I pled with my colleagues at the beginning of the session: let's not have so many bills," said Lockhart, a Provo Republican. "In reality, the majority of bills run aren't major policy changes. They're tweaks or clarifications of existing law," she said.

The few major policy changes lawmakers did take up sought to expand gun rights and bar the governor from expanding the state's Medicaid program.

The Medicaid proposal aimed to push the governor to reject expanding the state's charity care program, but lawmakers retreated from that idea over concerns it was rushing a decision on the issue.

Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday night that he's pleased lawmakers recognized the decision is his to make, and said that he and lawmakers will have to jointly steer the program going forward.

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