Menu Adam R Brown

Return to the Guide to the Utah Legislature.

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:

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 (2023), these bills received the most total floor consideration (combining House and Senate):

Bill Total floor consideration (minutes) Enacted?
HB0215S03 149 yes
SB0016S04 110 yes
SB0031S04 77 yes
SB0152S03 72 yes
HB0427S02 69 yes
HJR002S03 65 yes
HB0311S03 56 yes
HB0467S02 50 yes
HB0425S04 45 yes
SB0133S02 43 yes
HB0250S01 43 yes
HB0054S04 43 yes
SB0097S02 40 yes
SB0093S02 38 yes
HB0026S04 38 yes
SB0128S05 36 yes
SB0105S04 36 no
HB0499S03 35 yes
SB0156S03 33 yes
SB0185S04 33 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 2023

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, 2023:

Description Total floor time (minutes) As % of all non-bill time
Standing Committee Reports 370 14%
Recess 302 11%
Communications from the Senate 206 8%
Rules Committee Report 170 6%
Announcements 143 5%
Communications 115 4%
Prayer, Pledge, Quorum 90 3%
Recording 1 56 2%
Saunter 49 2%
Rep Acton: Motion to transcribe prayer into House journal 40 1%
Call to Order 39 1%
Recording 2 31 1%
STATE OF THE JUDICIARY: Justice Matthew R. Durrant 28 1%
Opening Remarks-President Adams 25 1%
Cease to Saunter 22 1%
Personal Privilege 21 1%
Conference Committee Report 18 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 2023: