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Floor debate time

In a typical 45-day General Session, each chamber of the Utah Legislature schedules roughly 120 hours of floor debate time. Not all this time actually gets used:

About the data

I wrote a program that scrapes bookmarks from archived House and Senate floor videos. These bookmarks allow viewers to jump to discussion of a particular bill. This method means that time "considering" a particular time includes not only time debating that bill, but also time voting on it or addressing other motions relevant to it, such as motions to circle or amend a bill. Recognize that a typical House or Senate floor vote takes about 2 minutes, so deduct that from time "considering" a particular bill if you want an estimate of how long the bill was actually debated.

Even when the Utah House or Utah Senate is on the floor, legislators are often engaged in activities other than consideration of bills: Waiting for legislators to sit and come to order (the biggest single use of non-bill time), recesses/saunters, recognizing visitors to the capitol, hearing from the governor or from Utah's representatives in Congress, and so on.

Floor time per week

Both chambers spend more time on the floor late in the session. Two reasons: (1) Many bills get introduced late the session, making it impossible to consider them earlier (details), and (2) bills need to get through committee before they come to the floor.

Here is floor time (in each chamber) per week in the most recent General Session:

And here is the same chart going back several years:

For comparison, here is the total number of bills that spent on time on the floor, by chamber, for each day of each General Session. The number of bills receiving floor consideration shows a clear upward trend as over the course of a session. (In this chart, if a bill was heard on more than one day in a particular chamber, it is plotted on each of those days.

Floor time per bill

Only a handful of bills receive more than passing attention on the floor. This chart depicts a separate vertical line for each bill considered in the most recent General Session, with enacted bills at left and failed bills at right. Bills are sorted by how much floor consideration they received.

Most years, the median enacted bill receives 10-15 minutes of total floor consideration (adding across both chambers). If we assume that 2 minutes of that "consideration" went to House voting, and 2 minutes went to each of the Senate votes (the Senate votes twice on each bill), then deducting 6 total minutes of voting time from the 10-15 minute median implies only 4-9 minutes of actual debate—total, across both chambers—for the median bill. In other words, the median enacted bill receives something like 2-4 minutes of discussion in the House, and 2-4 minutes of discussion in the Senate, before passing.

In the most recent General Session (2019), these bills received the most total floor consideration (combining House and Senate):

Bill Total floor consideration (minutes) Enacted?
SB0096S04 196 yes
SB0103S04 125 yes
HB0220S04 88 yes
SB0154S04 80 yes
SB0129S03 77 yes
SB0034S04 69 yes
HB0223S05 65 yes
HB0158S01 64 no
SB0132S02 59 yes
HB0136S01 58 yes
HB0288S02 57 yes
HB0144 56 yes
SB0052S05 56 yes
SB0177 55 no
SB0102S02 53 yes
SJR009 52 yes
HB0099S02 52 yes
HB0120S06 50 yes
HB0260S04 46 yes
HB0286 45 yes

More bills means less time per bill

Year over year, the number of bills passed by the Legislature is on a generally upward trend. Year over year, the amount of time spent on the floor is on a generally downward trend. Put this together, and the median enacted bill winds up spending less time on the House and Senate floors as time goes by.

Non-bill floor time in 2019

As noted above, these charts rely on bookmarked tags in the Legislature's archived floor videos. These tags are written by staff. Since the tags are not always written the same way, it gets difficult to aggregate all these tags to identify the main uses of non-bill time. For example, here are the tags that had the most time attached to them in the most recent session, 2019:

Description Total floor time (minutes) As % of all non-bill time
Standing Committee Reports 406 16%
Recording 1 296 12%
Communications 189 8%
Rules Committee Report 180 7%
Introduction of Bills 178 7%
Prayer, Pledge, Quorum 167 7%
Recording 2 145 6%
Communications from the Senate 125 5%
Saunter 91 4%
Roll Call 60 2%
Recognition 44 2%
Announcements 40 2%
Lift Bills 32 1%
Call to Order 28 1%
Committee of the Whole 26 1%
Recording 3 24 1%
State of the Judiciary-Chief Justice Matthew B. Durrant 23 1%
Conference Committee Report 22 1%
Speaker Remarks 21 1%
Opening Remarks-President Adams 20 1%

Much non-bill time is spent waiting for people to sit down. This time is generally tagged as "Recording 1," "Recording 2," and so on—these tags indicate that the cameras were turned on at the scheduled start of floor time, but nothing has happened yet. The number starts over each day, but increments (within each day) if the cameras were turned off for a break. By using wildcard searches for things like %Recording%, %Prayer%, %Recognition%, etc, we can get a better sense for how much time was spent in common non-bill activities in 2019: