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Floor debate time

In a typical 45-day General Session, each chamber of the Utah Legislature schedules roughly 100-120 hours of floor debate time. Not all this time actually gets used. I do not tally time spent in committee here, only time spent on the House or Senate floor.

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 engage 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 (i.e. breaks), 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 received 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 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 cursory discussion in the Senate, before passing.

In the most recent General Session (2020), these bills received the most total floor consideration (combining House and Senate):

Bill Total floor consideration (minutes) Enacted?
SB0174 97 yes
HB0101 84 no
HB0332S03 79 yes
SJR009S01 74 yes
SB0067S04 72 yes
SB0083S05 69 yes
SB0037S06 69 yes
SB0134S03 64 no
HB0364S05 63 no
HB0125S01 60 yes
HB0283S04 59 yes
SB0102S01 55 yes
HB0243S02 54 yes
HB0357S02 54 yes
SB0069S04 51 no
HB0023S07 51 yes
HB0035S04 49 yes
HB0323S02 49 yes
SB0111S01 48 yes
SB0228S02 47 yes

More bills means less time per bill

In years when legislators pass more bills, they spend less time discussing each bill before passing it.

Non-bill floor time in 2020

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, 2020:

Description Total floor time (minutes) As % of all non-bill time
Standing Committee Reports 376 14%
Recording 1 278 10%
Saunter 198 7%
Introduction of Bills 191 7%
Rules Committee Report 179 6%
Communications 171 6%
Recording 2 152 5%
Communications from the Senate 133 5%
Prayer, Pledge, Quorum 113 4%
Roll Call 92 3%
Announcements 60 2%
Recording 3 52 2%
Citation 52 2%
Recognition 46 2%
Call to Order 35 1%
Committee of the Whole 32 1%
Joint Convention Committee of the Whole 30 1%
Open Bill File 27 1%
Lift Bills 26 1%
Opening Remarks-President Adams 26 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 (or perhaps a few minutes early), but nothing has happened yet. Within each chamber, each day starts with "Recording 1," but moves to "Recording 2" (or higher) 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 2020: