Jerry Kopel

July 11, 2005


It was a poem. About a cow. Former Colorado Chief Justice O. Otto Moore was reading it to the House Judiciary Committee in Justice Moore's role as advisor for the state's district attorneys.

A cow meandered through a forest. Men followed the flattened earth as a path. Later the path widened into a street. The street became a twisted road, following the original journey taken by the cow.
It was all part of a lesson in the 1980's on the sometimes folly of "precedent",  and the poem was actually the major part of a Colorado Supreme Court decision.
Precedent often guides the legislature. Sometimes it is useful and sometimes it keeps operations in place long after they have outlived their usefulness.
In 1975, Democrats took control of the Colorado House. That meant any appointments made by the Speaker would be made by a Democrat; in this instance, Ruben Valdez.
George Keely, a respected Colorado attorney extremely active in uniform state laws, was about to assume the presidency of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. The Democratic win in the House upset those plans. 
The commission drafts and urges laws to be adopted by many states which laws are uniform in content.
Two appointments as Colorado commissioners were made by each house. Speaker Valdez appointed Rep,. Jerry Kopel and Susan Barnes. Senate Majority Leader Richard Plock appointed Sen. Joe Shoemaker and Dwight Hamilton. This left former Republican appointee Keely whose service on the commission began in 1967 out in the cold. What to do?
As chairman of House Judiciary, I began getting calls from uniform commissioners and legislators in other states pleading for us to do something. Otherwise it would be embarrassing for Colorado and for the national commission.
The first effort was to ask Dwight Hamilton, who had been appointed in 1965 to step aside for the 1975 term. That did not occur.
So we passed a bill increasing the commission size to six, three appointed from each house.  Plock  appointed Keely as the third Republican member. Valdez appointed Don Pacheco as the third House appointee. 
Everyone was now happy. Colorado would not be embarrassed. Keely did become president of the organization (as did Hamilton during the 1990s.)
I planed to reduce the commission size in 1977. It wasn't of such importance as to be placed on the governor's call in 1976. Fate intervened and in 1977 I lost re-election. When I returned to the House in 1979, I had forgotten the issue.
For the past, present and future years, (1975-2006) there has been added expense to the  legislative branch by having six appointed commissioners. Each commissioner is entitled to travel and other expenses for attending national and subcommittee meetings.
Six Colorado members plus the legal services director as ex officio member is far greater than states with double or triple our population. No matter how many are appointed from any state, the state has only one vote on issues debated.
Having four members (two appointed from each house) is logical. If someone is unable to attend a meeting, there is someone to take his or her place. With six members, you just fill an otherwise empty plane seat.
You want to reduce the cost of state government? Don't overlook the smaller savings. If you find enough small cuts, the combined expenditures you avoid can be large.
The budget for the state uniform commissioners for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2005 is $42,232, a 3.6 percent increase over last year. Ten years ago the budget was only $24,500. If the number of appointees had been cut in 1977, Colorado today would have saved in aggregate somewhere between $100,000 to $150,000.
Any bill introduced could take effect Jan. 1, 2007 so as not to interfere with the present appointments.
Hamilton and Keely, both now deceased, were granted lifelong membership following their presidency. They were powerful influences in the national commission, highly respected by all sides in uniform bill debates.

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