Jerry Kopel legislator! Do you want to sponsor bills that get passed in 1995?

Then heed my words and discover what a few members of the minority party have known and used for decades: The key to successful legislation is to have "NFI" (no fiscal impact) attached to your bill.

The reason NFI is even more important in the 90's is, of course, Amendment One of 1992, which places a ceiling on future increases in spending based on population growth and inflation factors. Growing beyond this margin and creating new taxes would require voter approval.

If your measure increases spending it has to pass muster not only in the original legislative committee , but also in Appropriations Committee, where cost may doom an otherwise decent idea.

Although there is no real correlation between a legislator's ability and the number of bills sponsored, this self-induced myth of "pass or perish" is still around. And certainly, there is the reality of reinforced confidence and satisfaction in taking an idea from its initial stage, through hearing and votes, to adoption and incorporation into the statutes of the state.

In 22 years in the Colorado House (18 of them in the minority party role) I was able to successfully carry as chief sponsor about 11O enacted bills, and probably another 30 major bills added as amendments to enacted bills of others. Almost none of these bills contained appropriation clauses. Those that did were primarily from cash-funding sources, namely increased fees charged for occupational licenses.

Just because a bill doesn't cost the government money doesn't make it less important.Bills that deal with relationships between business and consumers can produce enormous savings for the public, encourage competition and still contain an "NFI" label.

One example: In 1976, I and then-State Senator Hank Brown carried the bill that permitted consumers to purchase drugs under that drug's generic name, as long as the generic was substantially equivalent to the brand name. The cost savings to the general public was and is enormous.

After the bill passed Senate Health Committee, then-Senate President Fred Anderson tried to send the House-passed bill to Appropriations Committee. Senator Brown pointed out on the Senate floor that the bill had no fiscal impact (NFI). The bill was saved from an untimely death and became law.

My suggestion: Look for bill subjects that restore "level playing fields", that respond to repeated constituent consumer complaints (you will get a lot of these in the mail), and that make it easier for businesses to compete when one business is not given a statutory advantage over another.

Many laws "grow like Topsy", one subsection added to another, year after year, without any thought given to how difficult it is to read. Several years ago, I revised a statute that had just one section dealing with property tax exemptions, and which, when read vertically from end to end was more than ninety inches. No one could decipher it without a road map. It has now been rewritten into a number of easily readable sections with NFI.

We have a number of statutes that have been declared invalid by the highest courts, but which remain on the statute books because no one bothers to repeal them. There must be SOME conservatives who ran for office stating " I'm not going there to enact new laws, I'm going there to get some of those laws off the books." Here is your chance.

CRS 13-59-103 through 105 allows the jailing of a debtor following civil trial if his actions were malicious, fraudulent, willfully deceitful or negligent.

The law was enacted before statehood and according to one rationale "when a dishonest debtor was sent to jail, he usually made a quick call to his banker and repaid the debt."

Justice Vollack wrote the Supreme Court opinion stating because punishment could be avoided by a solvent debtor but became mandatory against an indigent one, the law is "invidiously discriminatory and unconstitutional."

That decision was written in 1987, but the statute is still on the books.

CRS 13-21-102 (4) provides that one-third of all reasonable damages collected (by a plaintiff) pursuant to the exemplary damages section shall be paid into the state general fund.

In 1991, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in a 5-2 decision by Justice Quinn that this amounted to an unconstitutional taking of a person's property by the government. The statute was declared invalid, but it is still on the books.

These are just two examples which could be incorporated with other Title 13 invalid statutes under "An Act Concerning Invalid Language Under Title 13, Courts and Court Procedure." In fact, Rep. Jeannie Reeser and Sen. Ray Powers will carry this measure.

But there are lots of other, similar statutes to choose from that need repeal. My reasoned guess is there are about fifty statutes still being printed which have been declared unconstitutional by the courts and which cannot be enforced.

There are also statutes that are valid, but so obsolete as to provoke laughter rather than obedience. Here are two of them:

CRS 40-27-106(5). When an animal has been struck by a train, it is the duty of the section foreman of the train to remove the hide of said animal and preserve the same until it has been inspected by the stock inspector.

CRS 40-27-108(2). The secretary of the Board of Stock Inspection Commissioners shall cause an advertisement to be placed in a newspaper published in the county where said livestock killing occurred for two consecutive weeks and the cost of the ads shall not exceed two dollars for any one animal.

There are other statutes where "numbers" are left to languish. These are substantive changes, but without a state fiscal impact. Example: Colorado has an exemption law listing dollar amounts for certain goods or property that cannot be taken by creditors. The purpose of the law was to permit a "fresh start" and avoid creation of more paupers or homeless.

Colorado's present dollar figures on exemptions were adopted in 1979 as a trade-off in which the legislature waived the rights of Coloradans to use certain federal exemptions. The 1979 figures are basically absurd when compared today against the Consumer Price Index increases for the past fifteen years.

To add insult to injury, Congress in 1994 amended the federal bankruptcy law to DOUBLE the exemption amounts permitted. One alternative for Colorado would be to change our numbers. Another alternative would be to allow Coloradans to use the federal numbers.

Clearing out clutter in the Colorado statutes isn't going to get much media attention, but you will have reduced future printing costs, made the statutes easier to read, and by revising obsolete provisions, you have restored original legislative intent. You will have performed a service for Colorado citizens.


Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator. At the request of publisher Jody Hope Strogoff, several columns written in early 1993 for the benefit of THOSE new legislators have been revised to be viewed by the new legislators of 1995.

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