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:
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.
|Brown, Melvin R.||R||26.6%||House budget chair|
|Lockhart, Rebecca D.||R||23.9%||Speaker of the House|
|McIff, Kay L.||R||16.1%|
|Hughes, Gregory H.||R||15.3%||House majority whip|
|Hutchings, Eric K.||R||12.8%|
|Wilson, Brad R.||R||12.3%||House budget vice chair|
|King, Brian S.||D||12.3%|
|Fisher, Janice M.||D||11.9%|
|Poulson, Marie H.||D||1.4%|
|Redd, Edward H.||R||1.2%|
|Moss, Carol Spackman||D||0.8%|
|Stratton, Keven J.||R||0.6%|
|Anderson, Jerry B.||R||0.6%|
|Peterson, Val L.||R||0.5%|
|Westwood, John R.||R||0.0%|
|Christofferson, Kay J.||R||0.0%|
Check my personal website for absentee rates for all 75 Representatives, including past years.
Which legislators miss the most/least votes: Utah Senate
Now, let’s look at the top 10 and bottom 10 in the Utah Senate:
|Hillyard, Lyle W.||R||34.0%||Senate budget chair|
|Urquhart, Stephen H.||R||22.8%|
|Bramble, Curtis S.||R||20.9%|
|Stevenson, Jerry W.||R||20.3%||Senate budget vice chair|
|Adams, J. Stuart||R||19.1%||Majority whip|
|Madsen, Mark B.||R||16.8%|
|Niederhauser, Wayne L.||R||16.1%||Senate president|
|Thatcher, Daniel W.||R||13.8%|
|Hinkins, David P.||R||12.3%|
|Harper, Wayne A.||R||5.6%|
|Jones, Patricia W.||D||5.3%||Minority asst whip|
|Vickers, Evan J.||R||4.7%|
|Mayne, Karen||D||4.7%||Minority whip|
|Henderson, Deidre M.||R||2.7%|
|Shiozawa, Brian E.||R||2.2%|
|Reid, Stuart C.||R||1.6%|
Check my personal website for absentee rates for all 29 Senators, including past years.
Reasons legislators miss votes
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.