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Legal impact of bills

Each bill passed by the Utah Legislature adds or deletes language from Utah's body of law, the Utah Code. If a bill changes even a single word in a particular Code section, that entire section will be reprinted within the bill for reference. For example, this snipped from HB144 (2019), designating the Gila Monster as the state reptile on lines 51-52, reprints all of Utah Code §63G-1-601:

These pie charts show that this reference language (the green portion of the charts) makes up more than half of a typical bill—both in the bill's original form (as introduced) and in its final form (as enrolled after passage). Most of the rest consists of insertions to Utah Code (red segments) rather than deletions (blue segments).

This analysis uses only statutory bills (eg HB100, SB100). I exclude resolutions (e.g. HR100, SCR100, HRJ100), which do not change Utah Code. I also exclude bills numbered HB or SB 1 through 9, since these are typically appropriations bills with no impact on Code.

An important caveat: Repeal language

I programmed a bot to scan every bill and tally the insertions to or deletions from Utah Code. A complication: When bills repeal an entire section from Utah Code, they do not reprint the affected section. Thus, my method may undercount deletions. My bot flagged any bill that contained the word "Repeals" in it as containing repeal language. Roughly one-fifth of bills in a typical year was flagged:

From spot-checking, it appears many of these bills were repealing sunset dates—automatic expiration dates for bills enacted previously—meaning that repeal language may indicate expansions to law rather than contractions. Only a handful of bills repeal entire sections, reducing Utah Code. In any event, repealed Code does not get tallied in my "characters deleted" statistic.

How bills affect Utah Code

Until 2021, the median bill added 1500-1800 characters to Utah Code while striking at most a couple hundred characters; lately, this has climbed. ("Characters" means anything: letters, numbers, punctuation.) In counting changes, my bot ignores simple renumberings; that is, if a numbered clause is inserted early in a section, my bot will ignore all the renumberings made to subsequent numbered clauses.

With hundreds of bills passed per year, this adds up to a couple million characters added to Utah Code each year and a quarter as much deleted. (Again, bills containing repeal language are not part of this analysis.) It is not surprising that Utah Code grows ever year: In a rapidly growing and diversifying state, Utah Code needs to keep up with new technologies, economic sectors, and societal problems.

Impactful bills face (slightly) more debate and scrutiny

Bills with greater impact receive slightly more floor consideration. In the chart below, each dot is an enrolled (passed) bill. The vertical axis depicts (on a log scale) the total number of minutes (House plus Senate) that a particular bill received on the floor—including time debating, time voting, and anything else. As shown here, the median bill receives only 9-13 minutes of total floor consideration; with voting time subtracted, that implies something like 1-3 minutes of debate in each chamber. The horizontal axis shows each bill's legal impact (on a log scale) as enrolled. The red (OLS) trendline shows that floor minutes do rise with bill impact, though the effect is modest; bills at the right end of the chart have 1,000 times more impact than bills at the left end but receive only a few more minutes on the floor. (This chart omits bills that contain a repeal clause.)

Impactful bills are also slightly less likely to pass. Each dot represents one bill. Dots are at the top if they passed and at the bottom if they did not. This time, bill impact (the horizontal axis) is measured at bill introduction. The red (probit) trendline shows a predicted probability of passage above 50% regardless of bill impact, though the predicted probability does rise with simpler bills. (This chart omits bills that contain a repeal clause.)

Who passes bills with the most legal impact

These charts compare average bill impact (in enrolled bills only) by the primary sponsor's party, sex, and leadership role, with House and Senate bills plotted separately. In general, differences shown in these charts are substantively modest, though some do pass into the realm of statistical significance (meaning there is a detectable non-zero difference between groups). (These charts omit bills containing a repeal clause.)