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. This reference language 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).

All analysis on this page focuses on bills (e.g. HB100, SB100). I exclude resolutions (e.g. HR100, SCR100, HRJ100), which do not change Utah 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. But other bills do repeal entire sections, reducing Utah Code. For cleaner comparisons of insertions and deletions, all following charts on this page omit bills flagged as containing repeal language.

How bills affect Utah Code

The median bill adds roughly 1,500 characters to Utah Code while striking at most a couple hundred characters. ("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 clause.

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, new economic sectors, and new 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 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 10-12 minutes of total floor consideration; with voting time subtracted, that implies something like 2 minutes of debate in each chamber for the median bill. 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 hte left end but receive only a few more minutes on the floor.

Impactful bills are also slightly less likely to pass. In this chart, dots are at the top if they passed and at the bottom if they did not. 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.

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. Again, I omit bills containing repeal language due to the difficulty of estimating their legal impact. 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).