The Republican Central Committee recently decided that it would not change the manner by which candidates gain access to the Republican primary ballot. The decision not to change the rules creates a possible showdown with Count My Vote. The group may seek to place an initiative on the ballot that gives candidates access to the primary ballot if they can gather enough signatures from voters. This procedure would allow candidates to gain access to the ballot even if they fail in the caucus-convention process.
It is difficult to predict the outcome of a ballot initiative so far in advance. Public opinion on ballot initiatives can be influenced by several factors. The intensity of the campaign and the kinds of arguments made to the public will matter.
The Key Research poll conducted at the end of January offers some clues about what the electorate might do. It contained the following question: “Would you favor or oppose making it possible for political candidates to participate in a primary by gathering voter signatures?”
One of the proposals being discussed would allow a candidate who did not prevail in the convention to gather a certain number of signatures and appear on the primary ballot. Fifty-eight percent of registered voters said they would “favor” or “strongly favor” such a proposal. When those answering “Don’t Know” are removed, the proportion of those favoring such a proposal increases to almost 67%.
Favor Access to the Primary Ballot through Signatures
Partisans differ in their assessment of the proposal. Republicans view the proposal less favorably than Democrats.
Favor Access to the Primary Ballot With Signatures
Click here to download a topline report that includes the full survey questionnaire, frequencies for each question, and a detailed methodological report (including details about the sampling as well as response rates and cooperation rates).
Were Democrats able to pass their bills this year? Given that they control only 17-19% of the seats, they still passed a respectable 43% of their bills. However, the gap between the Democratic and Republican batting averages grew substantially this year.
The closest votes in the 2013 Legislature. Utah Legislators continued their norm of passing most things out by overwhelming 90+% majorities, but there were still some close votes. I list the 20 closest votes for each chamber here.
How quickly were bills passed in 2013? In 2011, legislators shifted toward introducing their bills later and, as a result, processing them much faster. That change has leveled off, not deepened or reversed, with 2013 looking a lot like 2011 and 2012.
Who ran the most bills in the 2013 Legislature? Some legislators sponsored lots of bills; some passed lots of bills. The two lists don’t line up as much as you might think, though. I calculate an effectiveness score for each legislator (at least, those who sponsored at least a handful of bills) reflecting the percentage of their bills that they managed to pass.
Who missed the most votes in 2013? With so much to do in the brief 45-day session, legislators often leave the voting floor to tend to their other responsibilities. You’ll find the data here.
That’s it for now. There may be more in a couple weeks. I’m sitting on other material that I just don’t have time to post about right now. I collect more statistics about the Utah Legislature than I blog about here. You can find all (well, most) of my statistics here: Utah Legislature statistics and trends.
With so much going on in such a short session, it may be inevitable that legislators may miss lots of votes
Utah’s Constitution limits the Legislature to convening for only 45 days each year. Once you take out the weekends, they actually meet for 33 days in a typical year. In 2013, the Utah Legislature managed to pass 524 bills in that sparse amount of time. It’s a wonder that they had time to hear all those bills in committee and then debate them on the floor and hold a vote.
Overall, 2013 was a pretty normal year for absenteeism. The brief spike in absenteeism that we saw in 2011 subsided in 2012, and absentee rates overall in 2013 looked about like they usually have in recent years. Take a look:
Average percent of legislators missing a vote, by chamber
There’s a reason that absentee rates tend to be higher in the Senate: The Senate votes twice on each bill, not once like in the House, and Senators tend to take the first vote (the so-called “second reading”) less seriously. I’ve posted evidence before that Senators skip second reading votes more often than third-reading votes. This tends to push up the absentee rate in the Senate relative to the House.
Which legislators miss the most/least votes: Utah House
First, let’s look at the top 10 and bottom 10 in the Utah House. We’re only looking at floor votes here.
Legislators rarely leave the Capitol during the session unless they are ill. From time I’ve spent observing the Legislature, they don’t typically miss votes because they aren’t in the building–rather, they miss votes because there simply isn’t enough time to do everything the job entails. Simply debating and voting on bills can be a full-time job, but legislators have other duties during the session as well.
Crafting legislation. Bills don’t materialize out of nowhere. Legislators propose them. And as they watch their bills go through the process, they often need to sit down with stakeholders and negotiate changes along the way. That takes time. Several of the legislators listed above with high absentee rates sponsored many bills.
Developing the budget. Those tasked with managing the budget process have only 45 days to assemble a multibillion dollar budget. Legislators wouldn’t have a budget to vote on unless each chambers’ budget chairmen spent considerable time working on putting one together. Note that in both chambers, the budget chair and vice chair show up in the top 10 most absent.
Herding cats. Legislators in each chamber select leaders to manage the legislative process. Often, managing that process requires stepping away from it to meet with legislators or with other members of the leadership team. In both chambers, the presiding officer (Speaker/President) and majority whip show up in the top 10 most absent.
With so much going on in such a short session, it may be inevitable that legislators may miss lots of votes–especially if they sponsor many bills, have responsibility for the budget, or hold leadership positions.
Of course, there are some legislators who missed a lot of votes but don’t fit into any of those categories.
Update: A commenter correctly points out that many of those who missed a lot of votes serve on the Rules Committee. That’s a good catch. Rules often has committee meetings during floor time, especially in the final days of the session.
Legislators vary widely in how many bills that sponsor in the Utah Legislature. Before we proceed, let’s clarify what “sponsoring” and “floor sponsoring” mean:
Sponsoring. This means the legislator came up with the idea for the bill and had it initially introduced into his or her chamber.
Floor sponsoring. After a sponsor gets a bill passed through his or her own chamber, he recruits a floor sponsor to carry it through the other chamber.
For purposes of this post, I’m only looking at sponsorship, not floor sponsorship. Some legislators don’t sponsor any bills; others sponsor an immense number.
Here are some quick tables for the curious. First, we’ll look at which legislators introduced the most bills. Then, we’ll look at which legislators passed the most bills. Then, we’ll look at which legislators were most effective at getting their bills passed(i.e. the percentage of introduced bills that came were passed).
Most bills introduced
The following table lists the top 10 bill sponsors for each chamber in 2013.
Now let’s look at which legislators passed the most bills. By “passed,” I just mean it got through the Legislature; I don’t consider here whether the governor signed it. In the Utah House rankings, there was a seven-way tie for eighth place, including Hall, Ivory, Wilson, Noel, Brown, Bird, and Ray.
If you compare the two preceding tables, you’ll notice some major differences. In the House, for example, Rep. Kraig Powell appears at the top of the first table but doesn’t appear at all in the second after passing only 5 of his 16 introduced bills.
Just for fun, let’s look at each legislator’s effectiveness at getting bills passed–that is, the percentage of each legislator’s bills that actually passed. It wouldn’t make much sense to calculate these percentages for legislators who introduced only 1 or 2 bills, since a rate of 100% would be a bit misleading in those cases. I’ll calculate them only for legislators who introduced at least 5 bills. That leaves us with 40 (of 75) Representatives and 24 (of 29) Senators.
The table below gives the top 10 and bottom 10 in the House. Where there are ties–and there is a nine-way tie in the top 10–I sort them by number of bills passed. Are legislators are Republicans unless noted.
15 of 15
7 of 7
7 of 7
7 of 7
6 of 6
5 of 5
5 of 5
5 of 5
5 of 5
13 of 14
7 of 13
4 of 8
5 of 11
3 of 8
2 of 6
2 of 6
5 of 16
2 of 7
3 of 11
0 of 7
Since the Senate has fewer members, I’ll give only the top 5 and bottom 5:
There aren’t enough of them that many votes actually fail, of course. The figure below shows the percentage of floor votes that don’t pass in each chamber. Consistent with previous years, it was less than 5% in both chambers for the 2013 session. This despite Speaker Becky Lockhart’s plea early in the 2013 session urging legislators to pass fewer bills: “We’ll add another 200 pages of [Utah] code to the 200 pages we added last year. That’s on top of the thousands and thousands of pages already on the books. Do we really want to keep doing that? Really? Really?”
Percentage of floor votes that DON’T pass, by year
Of course, a few legislators try their darnedest to change that. Early in the session, Rep. Dan McCay took to Twitter to lament that he was the only vote “against dumb ideas.” (You should follow this link to see the great image he attached to his tweet.) Whether he was voting against dumb ideas or not is in the eye of the beholder, but he was right about one thing: He was often the only vote “against” bills. Rep. McCay was the most enthusiastic “nay” voter of 2012. The table below lists legislators ranked in the top 10 and bottom 10 for “nay” voting in 2013. Take a look:
Roberts, Marc K.
Greene, Brian M.
Wilcox, Ryan D.
Briscoe, Joel K.
Valentine, John L.
Shiozawa, Brian E.
Knudson, Peter C.
Urquhart, Stephen H.
Adams, J. Stuart
Bramble, Curtis S.
Stevenson, Jerry W.
Niederhauser, Wayne L.
There are a few striking observations about these rankings.
There is only one Senator in the top 10–actually, she’s tied for #10–and no Representatives in the bottom 10. I suspect this is heavily driven by the presence of a Second Reading Calendar in the Senate, where votes routinely pass by massive margins.
Although we might expect most “nay” votes to come from the minority party, they don’t. Rather, the differences in “nay” voting seem to be picking up the major factional split within the Republican party.
There are a LOT of freshmen in the top 10, but a lot of old-timers and leaders in the bottom 10. Perhaps it takes a few terms of service to pick up the “consensus culture.”
Leaders don’t vote “nay” much. Senate President Wayne Niederhauser cast fewer “nay” votes of anybody. And Speaker Becky Lockhart ranked #82 out of 104 legislators–that’s #72 of 75 in the House–with only 3.6% “nay” votes.
Something changed around 2009 or 2010 that led legislators to introduce their bills later and, as a result, process them more quickly.
In 2013, the Utah Legislature passed more bills than it’s passed since I started keeping track (in 2007). A total of 748 bills were introduced, of which 581 made it to a floor vote, of which 524 were passed out of the Legislature. (You can find data for previous years here.)
The Utah Constitution limits the Legislature to a 45-day session. Weekends are included in the count, even though the Legislature doesn’t meet on weekends. In practice, the Legislature handles all its business in 33 working days.
Think about that: 33 days to handle 581 bills. That means the Legislature has very little time to devote to each bill. It also means constituents have very little time to weigh in on bills between their introduction and final passage.
When were bills introduced in 2013?
In 2013, only 39% of bills were introduced within the first week of the seven-week session. That’s a slight increase from 2011′s low (35%), but still lower than was common prior to 2009 (53% in 2007, 55% in 2008).
The flip side is that more bills are introduced in the final two weeks of the session, what Rep. Powell has termed the “scary session.” In 2013, 23% of bills were not introduced until the final two weeks. That’s marginally lower than 2011′s high (24%), but higher than was common prior to 2009 (4% in 2007, 4% in 2008).
How quickly were bills passed?
If bills are introduced later in the session, there will naturally be less time between introduction and final passage. In 2013, a typical bill aged 14 days between introduction and its first floor vote, and 24 days between introduction and final passage. These numbers were similar to those seen in 2011 and 2012, but smaller than was typical for 2007 and 2008.
I wrote last year that bills were being introduced later and passed faster in 2011-2012 than in previous years. What we saw in 2013 was that those trends did not deepen, but they didn’t reverse either. Something changed around 2009 or 2010 that led legislators to introduce their bills later and, as a result, process them more quickly. Whatever it was that changed was apparently a one-time shock, since the change appears to have leveled off.
I have some ideas about what happened in 2009-2010 that caused this one-time shock, but since I don’t have data available to back them up, I won’t provide elaborate here.
Most votes in the Utah Legislature pass with an overwhelming bipartisan majority.
It has long been tradition that floor votes in the Utah Legislature pass with overwhelming majorities taking the same side. Democrats and Republicans alike tend to get behind the same bills. That being said, there were a few very close votes in the 2013 Legislature.
Let’s start by looking at the general trend: Consensus voting. Divisive bills tend to be heavily watered down before the reach the floor. By the time a bill actually comes to a floor vote, lawmakers often have little reason to oppose it.
Brian Greene’s HB 114 is a great example. As introduced, it would have made it a crime for federal law enforcement officers to enforce federal firearms laws within Utah. Paradoxically, it would also have required the Attorney General to provide defense counsel for any federal law enforcement officers so charged, even though the AG’s office would also be supervising the prosecution. By the time it reached the House floor, those provisions had been replaced with milder language that merely “affirmed” the state’s dominance in regulated firearms. As a result, it passed through the House 49-17-9. Although that’s a narrower vote margin than is typical in the House, it’s hard to imagine the bill receiving nearly as many votes in its original form.
Most bills start out less provocative than HB 114. By the time they’ve been amended in committee, they reach the floor looking relatively mild. As such, most votes in the Utah Legislature pass with an overwhelming bipartisan majority.
Take a look at the chart below. It shows the average percentage of legislators who vote on the winning side, by chamber. From 2007 to 2013, the House has typically seen an average between 92 and 94%; the Senate has seen averages between 95 and 96%.
Average percentage of legislators who vote on the winning side, by chamber
Democrats controlled 17% of the Senate and 19% of the House in 2013. In most of the preceding years, they controlled 20-something percent of the seats. If most Democrats weren’t joining the majority, then the high averages reported in the chart above wouldn’t be possible. A “party-line vote” occurs when the majority of Democrats votes against the majority of Republicans. Party-line votes are rare in the Utah Legislature, as you can see in the following chart. It depicts the percentage of votes that were party-line votes in each chamber, year-by-year. In 2013, only 11.7% of House votes were decided along party lines (roughly average since 2007), while only 5.5% of Senate votes were decided along party lines (tying 2007 for the lowest rate seen since 2007).
Frequency of party-line votes, by chamber
Which votes were the closest?
Now that we’ve established that consensus voting is the norm, let’s look at the closest votes from 2013. First we’ll look at the House, then at the Senate. In the tables, you can click on bill names to see the bill’s content, and you can click on the vote margin (ayes-nays-absent) to see which legislators voted each way.
Utah’s Democratic lawmakers have offered sanguine assessments of the 2013 session. Utah House Democratic leader Jennifer Seelig was quoted in today’s news saying “We were given equal access under our rules of engagement.” Her Utah Senate counterpart, Gene Davis, concurred: “We were treated fairly.” A week ago, Utah Democratic Party chair and freshman Utah Senator Jim Dabakis put it memorably: “The lion really doesn’t need to negotiate with the lamb but the lion has been more than fair.”
The numbers tell a different story: Democratic bills received less favorable treatment than last year. Let’s take a look.
Partisan batting averages
I measure each party’s success by looking at their overall “batting averages.” The Democrats’ batting average is simply the percentage of bills introduced by Democratic legislators that passed.1
In 2013, only 43% of Democratic bills passed, as compared to 73% of Republican bills. That’s a gap of 30 percentage points. Last year, the gap was only 9 percentage points. In many ways, the gap is more interesting than the raw batting averages, since it gives a measure of whether Democrats are treated differently than Republicans.
Take a look at the figure below. The red and blue lines show each party’s batting average for each General Session since 2007, and the green line shows the gap. In 2013, the gap jumped to its highest level since 2009, when it was at 40 percentage points.
The percentage of Republican- and Democratic-sponsored bills that passed
Now, the preceding figure shows how many of each party’s bills actually passed. But we can get more insight by looking at how many bills came to a floor vote. If a bill doesn’t come to a vote, it suggests that the majority party is flexing some muscle to keep Democratic bills off the floor, either by holding them in Rules, declining to prioritize them in the final days of the session, sending them to unfriendly committees, and so on. (An important caveat: It’s also a possibility that Democrats simply sponsored far more liberal legislation than last year, causing their proposals to die in committee–more on that below.)
This next figure shifts from looking at how many bills passed to how many came to at least one floor vote. If you look at the green line, you’ll see a substantial rise in 2013. In 2012, there was only a 5 point gap; Democratic bills were as likely to get a vote as Republican bills. In 2013, that gap rose dramatically to 24 points.
Percentage of Republican- and Democratic-sponsored bills that came to at least one floor vote
Which chamber drove this change?
Now let’s look at the House and the Senate separately to see whether one experienced a greater shift than the other. Let’s stick with looking at the percentage of bills that came to at least one floor vote. First the House:
Utah House only
And now the Senate:
Utah Senate only
The cross-chamber difference almost leaps off the page. The Senate saw very little change–Democrats have received steady treatment for the past 4 sessions, since 2010. In the House, there was an abrupt shift. During her first 2 years as Speaker, 2011 and 2012, Becky Lockhart ushered in a period of surprising fairness for Democrats. In 2012, the partisan gap in the House was a mere 2 percentage points. For whatever reason, however, things reversed course in 2013. The gap rose to 30 percentage points in the House, the largest gap seen in either chamber since 2009.
What caused the changed in 2013?
There are two main reasons that a minority party’s success with passing bills (or even getting them to the floor) might fluctuate from year to year.
First, if the Democrats introduce more moderate bills, they will find more success than if they run more liberal bills. This is, after all, a Republican-majority chamber, and nobody expects Democrats to be able to pass whatever they want. Whether Democrats run moderate or liberal bills is up to them.
Second, the majority party leadership in each chamber has various ways of impeding a bill’s progress before it ever comes to a floor vote, and if they choose to use those tools more heavily against minority party bills in one particular year, then the batting averages will shift accordingly.
Those are the two major movers and shakers. There are other possibilities, too. Among them:
The Utah House experienced major turnover this year, welcoming 20 freshmen, the most in 20 years. Research has found that when states introduce term limits, the resulting increase in turnover tends to diminish crossparty collegiality, as legislators have less time to form friendships across the aisle.2 Perhaps something similar happened this year. With so many freshmen Republicans, maybe there was just less crossparty collegiality.
There is no definitive way to assess which of these possible mechanisms drove this year’s change. One thing we can see, though, is that Democratic bills were far less likely to receive a floor vote this year than last year.
It’s not much of a stretch to claim that Utah Legislators earn poverty wages.
Since passage of HJR006 early in 2013, Utah Legislators will earn $16,500 per year. It can be difficult to know how many hours legislators put in to earn that money. From calculations I’ll present below, it appears that Utah legislators work just over 1,000 hours per year, producing an effective wage of $16.42/hour. At that wage, a full-time employee with two weeks vacation would earn $29,240 per year.
How much is $29,240? The Census bureau estimates that Utah’s median household income is twice as high: $57,783. For a family of four, $29,240 is only slightly above the poverty line ($23,050). It’s not much of a stretch to claim that Utah Legislators earn poverty wages.
A survey of Utah Legislators
During this year’s General Session, I had the opportunity to run a survey of Utah’s Legislators. I asked a variety of questions, some of which will be addressed in subsequent posts. I began by asking legislators to estimate how many hours they work during the General Session, in the month before the session (January), and during the rest of the year. You can read about the survey methodology, margin of error, and question wording in 2013 Legislator Survey topline report.
The median legislator reports working 62.5 hours per week during the General Session, 20 hours per week in the preceding month, and 12.5 hours per week for the rest of the year. If we assume legislators take two weeks totally away from politics, that leads to an estimate of 1,005 hours per year. (For context, consider that a full-time employee with two weeks vacation puts in 2,000 hours each year.)
What do legislators do during the General Session?
The Utah Constitution limits the Utah Legislature to a 45-day General Session held each winter.
During the General Session, the median legislator reports spending 30 hours per week either in committee meetings or in floor time, with another 9 hours spent in caucus meetings with other legislators.
This is one part of the survey that we can validate by looking at the 2013 General Session’s official legislative schedules. Looking through the House schedules, I found an average of 41 hours per week of scheduled committee, floor, and caucus meetings.1 The median legislator’s estimate of 39 hours per week on these activities slightly underestimates that 41 hour average that appears in the official schedule. Still, it is very close.
Beyond showing up to vote, legislators also have obligations to their constituents. Legislators spend time holding town hall meetings, responding to constituent emails and phone calls, and meeting with activists. The median legislator reports spending 8 hours per week (during Session) meeting with constituents and another 8 hours meeting with activists, lobbyists, and other stakeholders.
All told, the median legislator reports working 62.5 hours per week during the General Session. After seven weeks, that comes out to a total of 438 hours.
What do legislators do outside of session?
Legislative service is a year-round obligation that does not end with the annual General Session comes to a close each March. The period between sessions is known as the “interim.” Legislators have many duties during the interim: Service on task forces, attending monthly interim committee meetings, possible special sessions, and so on. Those in the Senate have the additional duty of attention confirmation sessions whenever the governor makes an appointment.
In the survey, I asked questions about how legislators spend their time during the interim. There was much greater variability here, making it difficult to pin down a pattern. The median legislator reports spending the most time (4 hours per week) during the interim interacting with constituents, either in person or by email. Legislators report spending a similar amount of time in various required meetings (such as interim committee meetings, special sessions, confirmation sessions, and so on).
Is Utah typical?
States vary widely in how many hours they expect their legislators to work and how much they pay them. In California, legislators are in session year-round and earn over $100,000 for their efforts. In Utah, the official session lasts only 45 calendar days (plus any special sessions), and legislators earn under $20,000. Recent data suggest that Utah’s legislature ranks in the bottom 5 in both salary and in session length.2
In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, the public discourse regarding gun violence has intensified, both on the national and state levels. Gun policy has attracted the attention of the Utah State Legislature, including the Second Amendment Preservation Act.
With the debate over gun control as a backdrop, we included questions regarding gun control on the January 2013 Key Research Survey. The results indicate that a majority of Utah voters oppose banning semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines. In keeping with patterns elsewhere in the country, differences exist along party lines.
Although there seems to be little hope for agreement on most aspects of the gun debate, a national CBS/New York Times poll showed that 92% of Americans support a federal law requiring universal background checks for all potential gun buyers. Similar to national data, the Utah data show overwhelming support for universal background checks:
While Utahns’ support for universal background checks is about 10 points lower than the national figure, the proposal is clearly still very popular. Figures 5 and 6 indicate that support for universal background checks remains very strong among both Republicans and those living in gun owner households.
The Key Research survey also included questions regarding gun policy in relation to schools:
Finally, we conducted a factor analysis on these six gun policy proposals. A factor analysis takes a number of observed variables (in this case answers to several questions about gun control) and seeks to find out if these multiple variables can be reduced to fewer (unobserved) factors. Factor analysis provides a means to see what, if anything, some or all of the variables might share in common. Factor analysis can be used for other issues such as government spending.
A factor analysis of the six items on gun control (see table below) shows that four of the six gun control variables relate to one factor (limits on gun control) and the other two items relate to a second factor. What is interesting is that the two items that seem to relate to a second factor involve children and schools. These are the items on providing the teachers with concealed weapons training and the school with an armed officer. The results of the factor analysis seem to indicate that respondents think differently about guns when children and/or schools are involved.
The opinion data indicate that Utahns oppose efforts to restrict access to the ownership and use of firearms. However, those opinions do not extend as easily or naturally when taking schools and children into consideration.
Click here to download a topline report that includes the full survey questionnaire, frequencies for each question, and a detailed methodological report (including details about the sampling as well as response rates and cooperation rates).