Jerry Kopel

Legislators certainly deserve a pay raise. Will they get it if HB 1321 by Rep. Russ George (R) passes the General Assembly? I'm afraid not, unless the language is changed.

"Presently the Colorado State Officials Compensation Commission reports suggested changes to the legislature which "in considering and enacting legislation...shall give consideration to the recommendations" for salaries of state officials, including judges. HB 1321 makes a major change to that approach:

"...any modification in the compensation of a state office specified in a report...shall have the force and effect of law unless the report has been rejected in its entirety by joint resolution of the General Assembly..."

The problem with HB 1321 is that it violates the state constitution in a number of ways. Section 19 of Article 4 covers the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general and secretary of state who "shall receive for their services a salary to be established by law."

Section 6 of Article 5 deals with the legislature and "Each member ...shall receive such salary and expenses as prescribed by law."

Section 18 of Article VI covers justices and judges of courts of record who "shall receive such compensation as may be provided by law, which may be increased but may not be decreased during their term of office..."

Under HB 1321, the commission can "modify" compensation. That's not the same as "increase". If they "modify" down a judge's salary, it takes effect during the term of office and violates Section 18 of Article VI.

Section 17 of Article 5 states "No law shall be passed except by bill" but HB 1321 provides if the legislature doesn't "reject" the commission findings by joint resolution, there IS a supposed new law in effect on salaries.

A Denver Post editorial (echoing Supreme Court Chief Justice Tony Vollack's address to the legislature on Jan.10th) compared HB 1321 with the state personnel independent salary survey system. But THAT system has its origins in Article 12, Section 13 of the state constitution, and there is no comparable status for HB 1321.

When HB 1321 states a commission decision has the "force and effect" of law, it is certainly a novel approach, but it isn't a law. If it could be done, there are a number of other sticky issues the legislature could slough off to someone else. Rep. Russ George (and I mean no disrespect) doesn't have the "force and effect" of musician Boy George. They are both male and put on their pants one leg at a time, but that's about it.

Except for the right to name two members to the compensation commission, the governor is out of the loop. Section 39 of Article 5 requires joint resolutions to be approved by the governor or vetoed, and HB 1321 could certainly be amended to make it clear the governor has "veto" authority over a legislature's "rejection" of salary changes. But if no joint resolution is passed, the governor CANNOT veto what the commission decides.

Passing HB 1321 without requiring the legislature to adopt salary changes by a positive vote on a bill will leave supporters in a lose-lose for the measure only to have it overturned by the courts. There are conservative legal foundations who will take on this issue and any legislator has "standing" to bring the action.

Justice Vollack was in error when he told the legislature "when I was in the legislature we were paid $100 per month" (and then later on $200 per month). My friend Justice Vollack and I entered the legislature at the same time in 1965 and he left at the end of 1972. The salary for legislators set in 1962 (for 1963) was $3,200 per year, and in 1968 (for 1969) was $4,800 per year.

Since HB 1321 copied Justice Vollack's proposal of Jan. 10th, I assume he would recuse himself from a Supreme Court decision if the bill becomes law and is then challenged in court.

Getting legislators to raise legislative salaries has always been difficult because of the "paranoia" that voters will be angry. My annual legislative salary in 1984 was $14,000 and the General Assembly raised it that year to $17,500 for 1985. How did that happen?

The following combines events as reported by Cindy Parmenter (then of the Denver Post) and my personal recollections as a member of the House. SB 104 by Sen. Regis Groff (D) and Rep. Arie Taylor (D) would have raised legislative salaries to $18,000. It easily passed the Senate 25 to 8.

During House committee of the whole, Rep. Jim Lee (R), having been promised the necessary votes in advance, amended SB 104 to provide for a $21,000 salary. On third reading the next day, as reported by Ms. Parmenter:

"....some members, wanting the $21,000 salary but reluctant to vote publicly for it, attempted to outwait their colleagues and vote for the bill only if their votes were needed for passage.

"The electronic board quickly climbed to 35 "yes" votes. But then members scrambled to change their votes when it appeared their support wasn't required for passage. They miscounted. The final vote was 32-30, one less than the 33 required for passage and the bill was killed...

"Lee glared in rage. House Speaker Bev Bledsoe smiled slightly... Lee said he had been sure he had 33 votes." But one of his 33, Arvada Rep. David Bath (R) had voted against the bill. "Bath explained he made a mistake, accidentally voting against the $21,000 salary. `By the time I caught it, it was too late. It was just a split second,' said Bath."

The Post story didn't mention that when the count was 32, Speaker Bledsoe ordered the machine to be closed. Meanwhile, back in the Senate, Sen. Groff introduced SB 218 along with Rep. Scott McInnis to raise the legislative salary to $17,500. It passed the Senate, 21-12 and the House 38 to 20.

The only 1984 members still in the House who voted on the two measures are Republicans Lew Entz, Jeanne Faatz, Phil Pankey, and Paul Schauer. All four voted "no" on both bills.

If SB 104 had passed the House, the Senate would have repassed it as amended and those four legislators listed above would have received an additional $49,000 in salary through 1998.

* * *

Rule No. l for writing Statesman columns praising the House and Senate majority leadership for keeping down the number of "late" bills introduced: Don't do it.

Several weeks ago, at the legislature's halfway mark, I believed both the House and Senate majority leadership were imposing self-discipline on these non-appropriation late bills introduced after the deadline on bill introduction established in the House-Senate Joint Rules.

Two-thirds of the way through this session, at the close of the 80th day of the 1997 Assembly, the House and Senate combined are EXCEEDING the late bill numbers of 1996. On the 80th day in 1996, the House had 26 and the Senate 27 non-appropriation late bills. Last Friday, the 80th day for 1997, the House had 29 bills and the Senate 25, a combination of one more than in 1996.

The 1996 legislative leadership treated minority members better than they have in 1997 on late bills. On the 80th day in 1996, there were eight Democratic and 45 Republican bills. In 1997, there are four Democratic bills (all in the Senate) and 50 Republican bills.


Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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