In 2008, 44% of bills were introduced on day 1. In 2012, only 28% were introduced on day 1.
Now that the 2012 session of the Utah legislature has wrapped up, what can we observe?
For one thing, it appears that the legislature spent less time vetting bills than has been the case in other recent years. We see this in two ways. First, fewer bills are ready to go when the legislative session begins. Second, bills are rushed through the committee process more quickly than used to be the case. Let’s look at each point.
Introducing bills later
Because Utah’s Constitution gives the legislature only 45 days each year to consider new legislation, it has traditionally been the norm for legislators to work on their bills during the interim (summer) months. Then, when the legislative session opens, legislators can introduce a bill that they have spent months preparing and discussing with people.
In 2011 and 2012, we’ve seen a shift away from that norm. Fewer bills are ready to go on day 1. In 2008, 44% of bills were introduced on day 1. In 2012, only 28% were introduced on day 1. That’s a huge decline.
This table gives a bit more detail. You can see that the big decline happened mostly in 2010 and 2011, with 2012 representing a continuation of 2011’s showing. Fewer bills are ready on day 1. What’s more, fewer are ready within the first two weeks of the seven-week session.
|Total number of bills introduced||% of bills introduced on first day||% of bills introduced in first two weeks|
The flip side of this is that more bills are being introduced at the tail end of the seven-week session. In 2007 and 2008, only one in ten bills was introduced during the last three weeks. In 2011 and 2012, one in five bills was introduced during the last three weeks. Here are the data:
|% of bills introduced in last three weeks|
If bills are introduced later, that means there will be less time to vet them thoroughly before passing them.
Rushing bills through committee
After a bill is introduced, it must be approved by a committee before coming to the floor. Given the sheer number of bills that make it to the floor, committees play a critical role in vetting bills. There just isn’t enough time to have a full debate of every bill on the floor. That has to happen in committee.
To their credit, legislative committees routinely refer bills to interim hearings if they do not feel they can adequately consider a bill before the session ends. Still, there is some evidence that committees have rushed bills through in recent years.
This table shows the average “age” of a bill at the time of its first floor vote. That is, how many days pass between the bill’s introduction and its first floor action. (Any committee action will have concluded before the first floor vote.)
|Average age of bill at time of first vote|
In 2007, typical bills spent 17.9 days–two and a half weeks–between introduction and floor action. In 2012, they spent 4.3 days fewer, on average. Two weeks is plenty of time for a committee hearing, but this is still a noteworthy decline.
What does it mean?
It might not mean anything. These numbers do not prove that the legislature vets bills less carefully than it used to. All that these numbers show is that the legislature has less time for vetting than it used to. Maybe there were inefficiencies in the process 5 years ago that have been rooted out. That’s certainly possible.
If these numbers do indicate less vetting, then legislators may want to consider the consequences. The outcry over HB477 last year (the GRAMA reform) probably could have been avoided if the bill had been given more time for public scrutiny. This year’s GRAMA reform attracted few (if any) complaints, because legislators took their time on it. Spending more time on bills helps legislators avoid casting votes that they may later regret.
Note that this post is an update to something I wrote on the first day of the legislative session, when I first noticed the decline in bills being introduced on day 1.