The 2015 Legislature passed 528 bills in 45 days

Though there were 87 more bills introduced in 2015 than 2008 overall, there were 84 fewer introductions within the first two weeks.

By the time the Utah Legislature concluded its seven-week General Session last Thursday, legislators had passed 528 bills (including resolutions). I’ve heard people call that a record. It might be. My data go back only to 2007, and it’s clearly a record since then. As you can see in the chart below, this year’s 528 bills and resolutions just barely edge out the 524 enacted two years ago.

The 2015 Legislature: Bills introduced and passed

The 2015 Legislature: Bills introduced and passed

Of course, legislators had plenty of additional ideas that didn’t get enacted. Though only 528 items passed, 831 were introduced for consideration. Only 3% of these were actually voted down on the floor. Another 33% never came to a final floor vote–either because they died in committee, or (more often) because they weren’t prioritized for a floor vote before the session ended.

The Utah Constitution limits the Legislature to 45 calendar days of activity. Because legislators do not convene on weekends, they have 33 legislative days in practice. Passing 528 bills in 33 days implies a rate of 16 bills per day.

Legislators didn’t consider 16 bills per day, though. Instead, most bills piled up and were considered rapidly in the session’s final days. In fact, 277 of this year’s enacted bills (that’s 52% of 528) received their final approval during the session’s final week. That’s an incredible amount of legislation to consider in only four days, and it reflects the culmination of a trend toward procrastination. As the next chart shows, Utah’s lawmakers have considered more and more bills during the final week of each year’s General Session.

The 2015 Legislature: 277 bills were passed in the final week

So why do Utah legislators wait until the final week to approve so many bills? Legislators have themselves to blame for this backlog. Up until around 2008, legislators were in the habit of introducing their bills very early in the legislative session, so that bills had plenty of time to work their way through the legislative process. But from 2009-2011, legislators shifted toward introducing their bills later in the session.

You can see this change in the next chart. In 2008, 551 bills (74% of 744 total) were introduced during the first two weeks of the session. In 2015, only 467 bills (56% of 831 total) were introduced within the first two weeks. Though there were 87 more bills introduced in 2015 than 2008 overall, there were 84 fewer introductions within the first two weeks.

The 2015 Legislature: Bills were introduced late in the session

The 2015 Legislature: Bills were introduced late in the session

When you combine this increased procrastination with the aggregate rise in bills–831 introductions!–you’ve got a recipe for a very busy seventh week.

Visit for additional statistics like those reported here.

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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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3 Responses to The 2015 Legislature passed 528 bills in 45 days

  1. Sam Walker says:

    Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said there are “…lies, damn lies, and then statistics.” Well the numbers here I do not think reflect the realities of the legislative process that give rise to the numbers. First, committee time in the first weeks of the session have been shifted over the years to allow for more base budget and appropriations meetings early in the session. Second, fiscal note bills are held for final passage until they can be prioritized for funding. Towards the end of a session the majority of bills are the fiscal note bills which have to be done late as to allow the budget picture to be clearer. Third, the amount of floor time is increased towards the end of a session by exponential amounts because: a) it takes the first weeks for bills to work through committees and be ready for floor; and b) the hours available to work go into the night and do not stop at normal business hours.

    Bottom line: it’s not procrastination – more bills will always reach final passage in the last weeks due to increased base budget focus early in the session and specific policy and procedural elements.

    • Adam Brown says:

      You raise some good points, but they don’t work against my conclusions. As to your specific points:

      (1) Yes, beginning in 2014, the legislature devoted more time in week 1 to the budget, something they walked back from in 2015 a bit. But the trends I’m talking about predate that. The big movement was in 2010-2012.

      (2) True, but that’s a constant across the period we’re talking about (2007-2015), so it can’t explain a change that happened within this period.

      (3) True, but that’s also a constant across the period we’re talking about.

      Bottom line: Legislators have been procrastinating getting their bill requests in, which means they don’t get out of LRGC until late in the session. And if bills get introduced later in the session, they’re going to be considered later in the session.

  2. With 277 bills pasted in the last week of the session, I wonder how many of those were passed on the last day under suspension of the rules for a 2nd and 3rd reading or a committee hearing or any other reason for suspension of the rules.

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