The key to successful legislation in 2003 may depend on having "NFI" (no fiscal impact) attached to your legislator's bill.
The reason NFI is so important in 2003 is the half-billion dollar deficit in present programs that must be wiped off the books. A bill with "fiscal impact" bill may well pass from its original committee to a final stop in Appropriations Committee. After all, other legislators don't want your legislator mad at them, when everyone knows the bill is dead meat anyway.
There is no real correlation between a legislator's ability and the number of bills sponsored. But this self-induced myth of "pass or perish" is still around. Constituents I met in 13 legislative campaigns were more interested in how and when I kept them informed during and after a legislative session. To constituents, killing bad bills in committee or on the floor is just as important as passing good bills.
Certainly, there is reinforced confidence and satisfaction in taking an idea from its initial stage, through hearing and votes, to adoption into the statutes of the state. But it doesn't have to cost money.
In 22 years in the Colorado House (18 of them in the minority party) I was able to successfully carry as chief sponsor about 110 enacted bills. More than half of those bills were "no fiscal impact". In addition, you can add important NFI amendments to bills of others when the subject fits under the title. You should always let the chief sponsor know what you are planning to do. You may get by without doing that, but you will pay a price in the end.
Just because a bill doesn't cost the government money doesn't make it less important. Bills that deal with relationships between business, consumers, and government can produce enormous savings for the public, encourage competition, and still contain an NFI label.
One example: In 1976, I and then-State Sen. Hank Brown carried the House bill that permitted consumers to purchase drugs under the drug's generic name as long as the generic substitute was substantially equivalent to the brand name. The cost savings to the general public was and is still enormous.
Then-Senate President Fred Anderson tried to send the bill to Appropriations, where drug company lobbyists had the votes to kill it. Sen. Brown pointed out on the Senate floor that the bill had no fiscal impact (NFI) and it was not sent to Appropriations. The bill was saved from an untimely death and became law.
Many bills "grow like Topsy". One subsection or subparagraph is added to another, year after year, without any thought given to how difficult it is to read. This year, Sen. Dave Owen plans to introduce a "good government" non-substantive bill with no fiscal impact. It separates Health Department powers and duties contained in just ONE section that is 14 pages long. The revision will place similar powers and duties together in several sections.
Between 1947 and 2002, that one section to be revised has been amended 27 times and is impossible for anyone, lawyer or lay person, to be certain exactly what part deals with their subject matter.
The other type of "good government" no-cost bill deals with invalid or obsolete statutory language. Last year, Sen. Doug Lamborn's successful bills included one that removed six pages of obsolete sections from our statutes. This year he will carry a bill that will remove 20 or more pages of obsolete statutes.
There are other statutes where "numbers" are left to languish.
Last year, former Sen. Bill Thiebaut successfully carried a bill that revised the decade-old mortality tables used as evidence, and which bill also removed 39 pages of obsolete language.
Other "good government" bills simply make sense and you wonder why someone didn't do anything about it before. Last year, Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald carried a successful "NFI" bill that placed language regarding the Moffat Tunnel together into one article and repealed a number of obsolete Moffat Tunnel sections.
Clearing out clutter in Colorado statutes may not get much media attention, but you will have reduced future printing costs, make statutes easier to read, and by revising or removing obsolete provisions, restore original legislative intent.
You will have performed a service for Colorado.
(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)
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