Jerry Kopel


Are "late bills" in the Colorado legislature an example of legislative perks run amok?

Democrats may have found a credible target as the 1995 session winds down: How well does the Republican majority apply self-discipline to prerogatives of power?

In the House and Senate, excluding the "long bill" and supplemental appropriation measures, there have been 94 late bills introduced in the 1995 session, 85 by Republicans and 9 by Democrats. There are 60 Republicans and 40 Democrats in the legislature. Those 94 late bills were "exceptions" to the deadlines imposed on introduction of bills.

A limitation on bills (which in turn led to late bills) is fairly new in Colorado's legislative history. It began as a common-sense approach to avoid problems that occur when a glut of bills overpowers the system.

If you reviewed House and Senate Journals sixty years ago, it wasn't unusual to see several thousand "bills" introduced. But legislative committee approval was needed to get a bill printed, and that greatly reduced the number of bills actually considered.

In contrast, if you examined a journal from 1975, all bills introduced were printed, and committee chairmen had to deal with unlimited numbers of bills assigned to their committees. To keep the process moving, they had to keep back a large portion of bills until near the end of the session. Those bills would then be presented to the committee in a package form and each bill was individually "postponed indefinitely".

Eighteen years ago, in 1977, the legislature took a first tentative step towards bill limitations by passing HJR 1016. This resolution allowed legislators no more than six bills each in odd-year sessions, plus any bills pre-filed before the session began.

Through subsequent years, the joint rules were "refined" to reflect the present status of five bills per legislator each year, and more restrictive deadlines on when the bills could be introduced.

In 1988, voters amended our state constitution and limited the number of days the legislature could meet. They also approved the GAVEL amendment which required the legislature to consider every bill introduced. Each new restriction adopted since 1977 has added to the "allure" of late bill status.

If some event occurs after the deadline has passed for introducing bills, doesn't the legislature need to respond? Of course!

Legislators in amending the joint rules in 1977 (six bills plus an unlimited number of pre-filed bills) had no problem contemplating a "few" late bills to cover emergencies. At least two of the three legislative leaders would have to "sign off" when such a bill was introduced. Thus was born what are now Joint Rules 23 (b) (1) and (2) and 24 (b) (l) (A).

Excluding the "long bill" and 21 supplemental appropriations, as of the morning of April 28th, the 1995 legislature considered another 573 bills.

In the House, there were 255 Republican and 107 Democratic sponsored bills. Forty-nine were late bills, and 47 of the late bill "permissions" were doled out to 27 of the 41 House Republicans. So nearly one out of every five bills introduced by House Republicans was a "late" bill.

There were two late bills for Democrats, one each for Reps. Dyer and Romero. Late bills by totals went to:

Reps. Adkins, 8; Sullivan,4; Foster, 3; Owen,3; and Anderson,3. Reps.Agler, Musgrove, Schauer, and Kaufman had two each. Reps. Prinzler, Moellenberg, Lamborn, Epps, May, Morrison, Tucker, Kreutz, Allen, Lawrence, Pfiffner, Chlouber, George, Martin, Sullivant, Berry, Grampsas and Congrove had one each.

In the Senate, there were 135 Republican and 76 Democratic sponsored bills.

Senate Democrats did better than their House compatriots on late bills. Senators Feeley and Rizzuto had three each. Senator Matsunaka had one. Sixteen of the nineteen Senate Republicans shared 38 late bills. This meant that nearly thirty percent of the bills introduced by Senate Republicans were "late bills".

Largest numbers went to: Senators Mutzebaugh, 6; Ament,5; Meiklejohn, and Ray Powers, 4 each; Schroeder and Coffman, 3 each. Senators Wattenberg, Lacy and Tebedo had two each. Senators Bishop, Blickensderfer, Dennis, Hopper, Wells, Schaffer and Wham had one each.

The 1995 House-Senate late bill totals of 85 for Republicans and 9 for Democrats compares unfavorably with 1994 when there were 66 late bills for Republicans and 16 for Democrats. (The 1994 totals listed here do not include appropriations bills and four bills granted Rep. Linkhart who entered the House after time had expired for introducing bills.)

Did the legislature need 94 late bills in 1995? While some items were in response to issues or events that surfaced after the bill deadlines, at least 80 percent were not, by any stretch of imagination, in that category.

If the purpose of bill limitations is to keep the process moving smoothly, can introduction of late bills be fitted into the joint rule on bill limitations?

Let me suggest one alternative. Why not let legislators "save" one of their five bills for use (if they want to) after the deadline, and require approval by all three House or Senate legislative leaders on any ADDITIONAL late bills.

Thirty of the 100 legislators in 1995 didn't even USE the permitted five bills each. Any one of them could have been approached (if the rules allowed one bill to be kept in reserve) by any lobbyist or legislative leader who needed a true "emergency" bill.

I respect the leadership qualities of Berry, Foster, Wells, and Norton. But (in my opinion ) there would not have been the glut of bills in the closing two weeks of this legislative session, with its accompanying rancor, tension, and careless drafting of amendments if those four Republican leaders had said "NO" to eighty percent of the requests for "late bills".


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

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