Jerry Kopel


Colorado's pioneers understood the psyche of legislators. In the constitutional convention that drafted our state constitution, they included language designed to stop legislators from introducing "late bills", which are those bills introduced, in modern times, after the deadline set up by House and Senate rules.

The constitution adopted by Colorado voters in 1876 imposed a time limit for introducing bills in the legislature, and voters stuck to it for 74 years.

Article 5, Section 19 of the constitution began with "No bill, except the general appropriations for the expense of the government only, introduced in either house of the general assembly after the first 25 days of the session shall become law."

Legislators could still introduce as many bills as they wanted to, debate as long as they could speak, and show off their products to the voters, but no late bill could become law.

Those "25 days" were changed in 1884 in a magnanimous gesture to "30 days". But in 1918, in a rather bitter mood, the number was reduced to the "first 15 days", and there it remained until 1950, when ANY time limitation was removed.

With two weeks to go until adjournment (at the close of business April 22d) the Colorado House is inching towards new records for the 1990's on the number of non-appropriation late bills introduced.

There were 53 late bills in the House, 49 by Republicans and 4 by Democrats. In the Senate, there were 32 late bills, 6 by Democrats and 26 by Republicans.

The 53 late bills in the House is already the second highest in the nine-year period, 1990 through 1998. Three more late bills in the House will set a record for the 90's.

From the eight years of 1990 through 1997, there were 321 late bills in the House, 22 by Democrats and 299 by Republicans. In the Senate, there were 337 late bills, 60 by Democrats and 277 by Republicans. Here are the totals for each house by year.

House: 1990, 35; 1991, (Speaker Berry's first year) 21; 1992, 33; 1993, 55; 1994, 41; 1995, 49; 1996, 39; 1997, 48.

Senate: 1990, 45; 1991, 42; 1992, 30; 1993 (President Norton's first year) 49; 1994, 44; 1995, 46; 1996, 41; 1997, 40.

Meanwhile, the number of joint resolutions in the House and Senate in 1998 is already at the average for the 1990's. Any resolutions introduced after April 23 are "late" joint resolutions needing the same type approval as "late bills". There are some more procedural resolutions needed as the legislature moves to adjournment, so the number will definitely exceed the average 79 joint resolutions of the past eight years.

Procedural joint resolutions are absolutely necessary to convene the legislature to hear the governor's state of the state, or to amend the joint rules of the House and Senate, or to adjourn sine die. Joint Resolutions praising individuals and athletic teams are "nice", they make someone happy, and usually do not create debates.

But joint resolutions directed to Congress are useless and time consuming. These are the ones that create debate and acrimony, but no Colorado legislative joint resolution has ever changed the course of history in Washington.

The key objective for a joint resolution dealing with federal or state policy is to put the opposing political party in the position of having to vote against God, Country, Flag and Motherhood as defined by the resolution's sponsor. It doesn't "fool" anyone and I have never heard of an incumbent who lost an election for having voted on the "wrong" side of a joint resolution.

Occasionally there are lucid comments that could give an oral historian a decent comprehension of feelings and attitudes on major issues, distilled through arguments of representatives of the people.

Congress doesn't learn how the Colorado legislature voted on the resolutions. They receive the end product and not the 38 to 27 and 19 to 16 vote record. As a legislator, I would get letters from then-Sen. Bill Armstrong thanking me for a resolution, even though I had been one of the vociferous "no" votes on the measure.

As of the close of business April 22nd, there were 45 House and 33 Senate joint resolutions, 10 in each house introduced on the last day possible without "late resolution" approval. Here are the numbers for the rest of the 1990's:

Senate: 1990, 33; 1991, 32; 1992, 20; 1993, 35; 1994, 40; 1995, 36; 1996, 29; 1997, 36.

House: 1990, 33; 1991, 52; 1992, 40; 1993, 44; 1994, 67; 1995, 37; 1996, 42; 1997, 51.

In the Senate for the eight past years, there were always, on an annual basis, more late bills than joint resolutions. That was not true for the House.

The last two weeks of this session will likely be busier and more chaotic than in 1997. Part of the reason is that 1998 is an election year. But the other reason is numerical:

All bills, including appropriations totaled 598 in 1997 and 611 so far in 1998. Joint resolutions totaled 87 in 1997 and 78 so far in 1998. But Concurrent Resolutions, which are measures to amend the state constitution totaled only 11 in 1997, and 24 so far in 1998.

* * *

This columnist predicted in the Statesman on Jan. 30th that U.S. District Judge Daniel Sparr would declare unconstitutional the requirement that candidates who do not agree to voluntary limits on spending had to indicate the same in ads, and also have that information next to their names on ballots. And that is how the judge ruled April 17th.

As to limits on donations to candidates, one area where the judge might act is on the $100 contribution limit to a candidate for the Colorado House or Senate. The judge, however, cannot legislate by inserting a new amount. But he might be able to lump legislators with statewide candidates who have a $500 limitation on donations.

A rationale that could be used is that state board of education and regent candidates, also topped at $100 per donation in the same subsection as legislators, run in areas larger than legislative candidates, although not as large as statewide candidates.


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

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