The 2017 Utah Legislature passed a record number of bills but slightly improved vetting time

We’re not back to the good old days of 2007-2008, but legislators definitely did better this year at getting their bills out earlier

Back in January, I heard a lot of chatter that this would be one of the busiest sessions ever. Folks were saying that legislators had submitted some 1200 bill requests to drafting attorneys. Though it’s true that the 2017 Legislature passed a record number of bills–535, edging out the 528 from two years ago–there weren’t necessarily more bills on the docket. Legislators introduced only (only!) 810 bills, a decline from the 831 introduced two years ago. As you can see from this next chart, this isn’t much of a change either way.

Total bills introduced and passed, 2007-2017

Legislators continued their habit of rushing bills through. With only 45 days for the General Session, the most any bill will age between introduction and final passage is 45 days. Of course, few bills actually age that much. If legislators don’t get their bill requests to staff before the holidays, then the bills won’t be ready for introduction until halfway through the session. Of course, most bills don’t get nearly 45 days of vetting. In 2017, the average bill aged only 17.2 days from introduction to first floor vote. As fast as that sounds, it’s actually the longest interval since the 17.9 day average clear back in 2007.

After that first vote on day 17.2, the average bill aged only 11.2 more days before its final passage. Those are calendar days, not working days; taking out weekends, 11.2 calendar days are only 9.2 working days. It’s hard for bicameralism to work when the second chamber gets so little time to consider bills, but at least we’re doing a little better than we were in 2011 and 2012.

You can see this improvement in the next chart. In the chart, the public has the most time to react to bills when the orange bars are tall and the blue bars are short. This year, 371 bills were introduced during the first week; after last year’s 376, that’s the most since 2008. Only 108 bills were introduced in the session’s final three weeks, the least since 2010. We’re not back to the good old days of 2007-2008, but legislators definitely did better this year at getting their bills out earlier, allowing more time for public comment. There were exceptions, of course.

Bills introduced early or late, 2007-2017

Next up: Floor voting patterns. Once again, bipartisan consensus rules the day, with minimal party-line voting and only a few close votes. Read it now.

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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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