Evaluating the Senate’s second reading calendar

Absenteeism is, indeed, higher on the second reading.

I posted earlier about absentee rates in the 2012 Utah legislature. There’s been some discussion in the comments about the second versus third reading calendars in the Senate. Here’s some data.

Background: The Senate’s second reading calendar

In the House, bills need only one floor vote (the “third reading”) to pass. In the Senate, bills need two floor votes, the “second reading” and the “third reading.” (Let’s ignore things like committee actions and suspension of the rules for a moment.)

Sitting in the galleries, I’ve formed two impressions about Senate floor voting.

  • First, Senators are more likely to skip second reading votes than third reading votes, since they know the vote isn’t final.
  • Second, Senators seem more willing to vote “yes” on a second reading than on the third reading, for the same reason.

Let’s test those hunches. This comparison is a little hard. I can only look at votes that passed, since those show up in voting records as “Senate/ passed 3rd reading” or “Senate/ passed 2nd reading” or something similar. Unfortunately, votes that fail show up as “Senate/ failed” without indicating which reading it was. So this analysis may be off, since we’re looking only at votes that pass.1

Absenteeism on the second reading

Absenteeism is, indeed, higher on the second reading. From 2007 through 2012, the average second reading vote had 3.7 senators absent (that’s 12.6% of the chamber); the average final vote (including votes that merged the 2nd and 3rd readings under suspension) had 3.0 senators absent (10.3% of the chamber).

That’s what you see when you average across all six sessions from 2007 through 2012. Something stands out when you look at it year-by-year, though, as in the figure below. You’ll notice that the gap is much wider in 2011 and 2012 than in previous years.

In 2011, the average 2nd reading had 5.1 Senators absent (17.6%); the average final vote had only 3.7 Senators (12.8%) absent.

In 2012, the overall numbers were somewhat smaller, but the gap was just as large. The average 2nd reading had 3.8 Senators absent (13.1%), while the average final vote had only 2.4 Senators (8.3%) absent.

“Nay” votes on the second reading

The pattern is far less compelling when it comes to “nay” votes. In many years, there really isn’t a gap at all. In 2012 there was a bit of a gap, though. The average second reading vote attracted 1.4 “nay” votes, compared to 1.0 “nay” votes for the average final vote. I’m not sure that’s a big enough gap to make hey about it.

Wrapping up

I’ve confirmed my hunch about absenteeism being higher on the second reading, but it turns out that my “hunch” was driven by recent experience. There wasn’t much of a gap prior to 2011, but there has been a meaningful gap since then.

I’ve mostly disconfirmed my hunch about “nay” voting being rarer on the second reading, although it looks like there might be something going on there.

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About Adam Brown

Adam Brown is an associate professor of political science at Brigham Young University and a research fellow with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. You can learn more about him at his website.
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