Jerry Kopel


Well before the legislature met in January, a lobbyist asked the Speaker-To-Be Russ George what his policy would be regarding late bills. Rep. George, R-Rifle responded "My policy will be lax." Rep. George was wrong. The policy isn't lax, it's ex-lax.

The effluent House now has produced the highest number of late bills ever introduced during the decade of the 1990's, but not as many as inferred in a recent Denver Post column. As of the evening of April 19th, there were 69 late House bills.

The deadline date for House bills this year was Jan. 27th. However, a House-Senate Joint Rule adopted during Speaker Chuck Berry's administration added a caveat.

If a bill is deposited by deadline with the Chief Clerk of the House or the Secretary of the Senate by 4:30 p.m. on (in this case Jan. 27th for the House) "the numbering of such bills, their assignment to committees of reference, and their formal reading and introduction need not be conducted on the day of the specified deadline", as long it occurs prior to adjournment on the third calendar day following (in this case Jan. 30th in the House).

The reason why Speaker Berry pushed for the change was to allow him to meet with the chief sponsor and determine which committee should hear the bill. He couldn't do that if he had to make a decision the minute the bill was given to the Chief Clerk of the House late on deadline day.

So House bills with a Jan. 28th introduction date are really not late bills. And of course, other bills that are introduced BEFORE the deadline (January 8th, as an example) and which are then given waivers against having to get through the process at a specified time, are not really "late" bills.

There have been more than 800 late bills introduced during the decade of the 1990's. I do not count any type of appropriation bill as a late bill in this column. This year my late bill count starts with HB 1310 in the House and SB 171 in the Senate.

There were certainly logical reasons for allowing late bills once the legislature decided to place restrictions on how many bills a legislator could introduce, and a deadline for their introduction.

What if the governor had an agenda item that couldn't be ready by deadline time? What if some loophole in an important law was disclosed by the media? What if some statewide crisis occurred that needed immediate attention? What if a legislator was sworn in after the session began and was unable to prepare legislation? A late bill status would be useful in each situation.

House Speaker George gave me another reason recently. "When you have so many new legislators, they need time to gather their thoughts and figure out exactly what legislation they want to offer." To a minor extent, there were late bills that fit those categories.

As of the evening of April 19th, there were 69 late House bills and 17 were by first termers. And other late bills met the standards of a "true" late bill. Rep. Dean's HB 1316 on Concealed Handgun Permits, and Rep. George's HB 1325 on Transportation would fit the category of executive department interest.

Rep. Spradley's HB 1345, Tax Credit for Historic Preservation, saves the credit which would have otherwise expired Jan. 1, 2000. Rep. Grossman's HB 1360, the Revisor's Bill to correct non-substantive errors discovered in the statutes, is always "late". And Rep. Gotlieb's HB 1353 closes a loophole on felons transferred to "rehabilitation" in Colorado without approval by state community corrections boards.

But the majority of House late bills were by veteran legislators who simply wanted to introduce another bill. And they were veteran REPUBLICAN House legislators. Of the 69 late House bills, only six were by Democrats. The House Speaker did inform me that no other Democrats besides those six had asked permission for a late bill.

Examples of unneeded late bills: HB 1341 by Rep. Kaufman, a 40 page bill setting out a new Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. That measure was passed by the Uniform Law Commissioners in 1997. If it was so urgent, why wasn't it introduced in 1998 or early 1999? Ditto for Sen. Lamborn's SB 220, "Colorado Uniform Custodial Trust Act", another measure by the Uniform Law Commissioners.

Almost all the late bills are pushed by lobbyists. Why do they like late bills? In the last month of the session, legislators are tired. In committee, they can still tear apart a one or two-page bill. But give them 10 or more pages all in capital letters and their eyes glaze over, they slump in their seats and think "The hell with it, let somebody else deal with this."

And why would Rep. Taylor in the closing weeks of the session introduce a controversial HB 1358 regarding video lottery terminal slot machines at race tracks, sure to arouse lengthy, acrimonious debate, without having first checked with the governor who is known to bitterly oppose such measures?

Over in the Senate, out of 35 late bills, there were three by senators serving their first four months in the legislature. There were five bills by veteran Democrats.

Some Senate late bills were obviously "true" late bills. Sen. Grampsas struck a loophole with SB 174 repealing the sale of identification photos. SB 172, the tobacco litigation settlement by Sen. Lacy, was another. But other measures, such as Sen. Anderson's SB 202 permitting parents to set school curriculum, or SB 221 by Sen. Lamborn on petitions to amend association declarations could certainly have waited until 2000.

Representative and senators with the most late bills are: Reps. George with five (in fairness he only introduced one bill before the deadline), Dean, Hoppe, Kaufman, Spradley, and Taylor with four. Sen. Anderson has four late bills.

For the past nine years, 1990 through 1998, legislators have introduced 752 late bills, again not including any appropriations bills. There were 380 in the House and 372 in the Senate. That total of 752 is more than the total number of bills introduced in any recent single legislative session.

Of the 380 late House bills, 354 were by Republicans. Of 372 late Senate bills, 305 were by Republicans. That's 88 percent for Republicans and 12 percent for Democrats. Of the 104 late bills introduced thus far in 1999, 11 were by Democrats.

Studies of recent legislative sessions show that late bills required major committee, floor and conference committee action in the final 10 days of the sessions. Certainly the Senate is going to have to deal with the record number of House late bills. Without the late bills, each General Assembly could have finished its work early.

The major reason for late House and Senate bills is that leaders are as much "slaves" as they are "masters" of the legislature. How do you tell one Republican he or she can have a late bill and tell another Republican, "no, you can't".

There is a solution. Adopt STANDARDS in the rules as to what constitutes a late bill that is truly needed. That would provide leadership with grounds to say "no" to late bill requests.

On Tuesday, April 13th, Majority Leader Doug Dean admonished members of the House to stop talking so much at the mike. Otherwise the House would have to work "overtime" to finish the legislative work by May 5th.

I checked the House calendar for April 14th. Counting second reading, conference committees, and bills still in regular committees, there were 38 late House bills to be acted upon. Deduct those from the House calendar, and members would have a steady, but easily workable schedule. And they could talk as much as they wanted to.



(Appropriations bills not included)


































*As of the evening of April 19th.

There is no doubt in my mind. Rep. Bill Swenson, R-Longmont, has "chutzpah". In 22 years in the House, plus another decade either writing bills for the legislature or reviewing bills as a Statesman columnist, I have NEVER seen a bill urging legislators to vote for a bill in memory of a deceased legislator.

The bills are HB 1321 and 1335. Both bills push biotechnological activity exemptions for state sales and use taxes paid. HB 1321 and 1335 were voted on in Finance Committee on March 19th. HB 1321 was killed and HB 1335 was passed.

Both measures contained the same legislative declaration, which was not given a section number and which will appear only in the 1999 Session Laws. The declaration notes the strong interest by then Rep. Tony Grampsas in biotechnological measures. And it states that because of Sen. Grampsas' involvement in educational achievement:

"Colorado can play a leading role in the development of new and beneficial technologies. Therefore, it is the intent of the General Assembly that this act be a living testament to the public vision and spirit exhibited by Senator Grampsas during his distinguished public career."

Now, how can ANY legislator vote AGAINST a bill with that kind of legislative declaration?

I can only recall one other incident, which comes nowhere close to HB 1321 and 1335. In the early 1980s, as we debated the lottery in the House, Rep. Phil Massari went to the microphone and told us he had visited with Sen. Sam Taylor while Taylor was on his deathbed:

"Sam reached up and held on to me, and in a cracking voice he said 'Phil, the lottery. Pass the lottery.'"

I would like to assume Rep. Swenson didn't realize what he was doing to his fellow legislators. Meanwhile, Senate Joint Memorial No. 2 for Sen. Grampsas was introduced by Sen. Anderson and Rep. George and a vast number of co-sponsors, with a House-Senate Joint Memorial Service held in the House chambers on Tuesday, April 13th.

The biotechnological bill should pass or fail on its merits, without raising the issue of a "living testament to...Sen. Grampsas." Knowing Tony for 14 years, I think that's the way he would have wanted it to happen.

* * *

The second "chutzpah" award goes to Rep. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs for HB 1358. This late bill would place a minimum of 500 slot machines under the jurisdiction of the lottery commission at licensed horse and greyhound racetracks, with heavy payoffs to the track "agents".

The bill is a carbon copy of HB 1351 (late bill) by Rep. Taylor and Sen. Elsie Lacy, R-Aurora, which passed the House and Senate in 1997 and was vetoed by Gov. Romer, and SB 65 introduced by Sen. Lacy in 1998, which died in Senate Appropriations Committee April 13th of that year.

HB 1358 calls the slot machines "video lottery terminals" and would also allow them at licensed casinos, as well as horse and dog tracks, but not bingo halls. The only difference from slot machines presently in operation at casinos is the payoff, which comes in the form of a pay voucher instead of coins.

Last year, the battle came down to who was stronger, the casino lobby opposing the bill, or the racetrack lobby pushing it. The casinos won.

Are the slot machines, lottery machines? For the benefit of first termers, the present lottery law gives the lottery commission unlimited power to set the amounts wagered (with a dollar minimum), the locations of licensees, the amount of agent commissions to be paid, and whether the device meets the concept of a lottery. If the lottery commission wanted to set up slot machines at tracks, I think they could do so without this bill.

The argument for the bill is that the tracks need the revenue in order to exist. According to the Denver Rocky Mountain News "the majority of those tracks are owned by Wembly Corp., a British entertainment conglomerate."

These tracks are formed to make a profit and suffer the possibility of deficits and bankruptcy. Casino operations make it or don't make it without government subsidies. Many go bankrupt. If people don't want to see a horse or dog race, why should government entice them on to the premises by way of slot machines?

According to Legislative Council, in fiscal year 2000/2001 the track "agents" will get $43,900,000. Not a bad piece of change for Wembly Corp. and other track owners.

Not mentioned in the fiscal note is the cost to consumers. If net machine income in 2000/2001 is $95,500,000, and the average payout is 55 cents on the dollar, then consumers will have placed $216,000,000 into the slot machines.

And why a late bill? Certainly the tracks knew they were going to try the bill again, even before the legislature convened. For a moment I thought "Oh, oh, they cleared this with Gov. Owens." Wrong!

Gov. Bill Owens told the Denver Post "he'd veto the legislation if it gets to his desk." That position is based on several decades of consistent opposition by Owens to expansion of gambling in Colorado.

The House Agriculture Committee wasted part of their morning session April 8th on this bill and then sent it on to Finance Committee. Are we in for a lot more wasted time, or will HB 1358 somewhere along the way be snuffed out as SB 65 was in 1998?

* * *

The Excellent Common Sense Award this month goes to Sens. Dottie Wham, R-Denver and Pat Pascoe, D-Denver. Sen. Wham in 1992, had sponsored the law that apportioned Denver's school district into sub-districts and which also gave the legislature the right to continue that reapportionment based on future census. The Denver School District was the only district being reapportioned by the legislature.

Wham and Pascoe successfully co-sponsored an amendment to HB 1171 which returned to the Denver School Board the authority to reapportion Denver's school sub-districts.


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

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