Statistics: Legislatures with an opposite-party Governor; Bills and Resolutions
By Jerry Kopel
May 24, 2010
It only happened once in the combination of 19th and 20th century Colorado. What? A legislature controlled by Democrats in the House and Senate with a Republican as governor.
From 1901 through 2010, Democrats have controlled both the House and Senate 14 times (28 years) and in 13 of the 14, there was a Democratic governor. Only in 2005-06 did the opposite happen, a Democrat House and Senate and two years of Gov. Bill Owens' eight years in that office.
We started the last century in 1901 with two Republicans in the Senate and seven in the House. The others not Democratic were Silver Republicans, Populists, and Single Tax parties. We ended the present legislature with 60 Democrats, one Independent, and 39 Republicans.
Here are the 14 legislative assemblies with Democratic majority (out of 65) in the House and (out of 35) in the Senate.. Until the 1961 election governors were elected to two year terms.
* In 2009 one Democrat became an Independent. The legislature went from 40 Democrats in 1999 to 61 in 2009.
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One Joint Rule of the House and Senate is basically avoided by legislators. It reads "Sponsors of Bills. Rule 24(b)(1)(A). A member of the General Assembly may not introduce more than five bills in a regular session" excluding supplemental appropriations and bills required by statutes or approved by interim committees.
Permission for more House bills are decided by a Committee on Delayed Bills composed of the minority leader, majority leader of the House (plus Speaker) and for the Senate the senate majority and minority leaders (plus President). Final annual bill totals over the last decade number in the high 600s and low 700s.
Historically during the 20th century each odd year legislature until the 1950s saw more than a thousand bills introduced and passage of fewer than 200. The bill went to a committee which committee decided whether or not to print the measure.
In 1929 as an example, the legislative session ran for 110 days. There were 1,038 bills and 186 passed.
Under the present system:
In the even-numbered years the House introduces the supplementals and the odd numbered years the Senate get the task. In even-numbered years the House introduces the bills subject to Sunset repeal review. In odd-numbered years the Senators are the chief sponsors.
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For many years I have berated the legislators for wasting valuable time notifying Congress what the state legislature thought about national issues through House and Senate Joint Resolutions (JR). Some JRs tell us about holidays that need recognition, news events worthy of notice, or substitutes for bills killed. Some are actually needed to amend legislative rules or notifying the governor when work was about to begin or end.
When Bill Armstrong was a U.S. senator, he would send me glowing thanks for the state legislature passing a JR on a federal issue, apparently unaware I had voted and spoken against the JR.
For the past two dozen years I have kept data on JRs. Here is the breakdown for the last decade:
Pouring more bills and JRs into the system during the last several weeks of the session brings exhaustion and exhaustion brings uncaught error. After awhile you become numb and could not pick up another amended bill or (heaven forbid) a bill longer than 10 pages. Having served 22 years I can honestly say legislators faced the same problems in the 1970s that they do in the new century.
Sometimes the stress is so great as to cause medical problems. I had a major heart attack nine months after retiring.
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What will be the major position that Republicans will attempt this year? I would go for election of the new governor. The Colorado Senior Lobby in June of 2005 reported "Gov. Owens' 47 vetoes sets a record for the number of vetoes issued by a governor". I have to assume the author reviewed each legislative session since 1876. Thanks to the 120 day limit on the legislative session this leaves the governor at the end with an ability to veto bills without any possible override by the legislature. In 2006, Owens vetoed 44 bills.
If that did not work then the Senate would be the priority since only half the members are up for election. Taking a large number of seats cannot be challenged until 2014 which could result in a Republican Senate majority in 2012.
The Democratic priority slogan should be "hell, no". I remember hearing that slogan extensively recently.
(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)
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