"I'm shocked, shocked." Gov. Bill Owens protested in his best imitation of Claude Raines in the movie "Casablanca". The legislature had ignored the work by and recommendations of his Dept. of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) in reviewing the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board.
Owens wrote to the legislature:
"Therefore, I would respectfully suggest the General Assembly recognize this fact by altering the sunset review process and transfer the authority to conduct these reviews back to the legislature. While the General Assembly might then choose to ignore its own recommendations as well, the citizens of Colorado will not be forced to waste executive branch resources on such reports."
This year is the 25th anniversary of the first Sunset law in the nation, adopted in Colorado. Under Sunset every occupational licensing law is repealed at a future date subject to review as to whether the law should be continued, amended, or ended. A number of regulatory licenses, ranging from Artificial Inseminators (under Veterinarian statutes) to Shorthand Reporters to Landscape Architects to Professional Sanitarians, have been abolished.
In 1985, the legislature established a six-member review committee composed of three senators and three representatives. Their job was to meet during the summer and fall when the legislature was not in session and review proposed DORA reports, listen to testimony by opponents and proponents of a licensing law, decide what to do, and prepare a bill to carry out the objectives.
One senator and one representative from the committee would sponsor the bill. Usually, the other four members were co-sponsors. Also every attempt to add NEW licensing laws would go through the same review process.
That committee saved Colorado a lot of money. DORA issued a 1993 report on how the committee had functioned from 1985-93: "As a result of Sunrise reviews...the legislature has either delayed or prevented creation of some thirty new regulatory programs. An estimate of savings (by averting unnecessary regulation) suggest the public has benefited in the amount of at least $6.3 million."
And that did not include millions of other dollars saved by either doing away with unneeded regulatory agencies already in the state's statutes, or by amending regulatory provisions and reducing bureaucratic waste.
Items such as testing, unlawful acts, disciplinary actions, and makeup of licensing boards have similarities no matter what the particular occupation being reviewed. That is where a focused Sunrise-Sunset Committee showed its expertise and talent.
The committee was successful because "hard-nosed" members, chosen for their ability to stand up to lobbying pressures, winnowed out licensing requests and regulatory waste. And with the committee and DORA on the same working page about what needed to be done, DORA has six legislator-advocates who had already heard the arguments and who were trusted by the other 94 legislators.
All of that ended in 1996 when the legislature passed HB 1159 by Rep. Vickie Agler. Her bill did away with the Sunrise-Sunset Committee. DORA recommendations went directly to regular legislative committees. Members of those committees needed to read the DORA reports (which many did not) without the time allowed in the Sunrise-Sunset Committee to sharply interrogate persons for or against a proposal, and then they had to carry measures most had not the slightest interest in.
Gov. Owens knows better than to blame the present legislature. His barbs should be directed at the 1996 session. Owens served several years as a member of the Sunrise-Sunset Committee. We sat next to each other at meetings and jointly sponsored bills approved by the committee.
Does Gov. Owens want DORA's recommendations to be respected? Then he should lobby the legislature to restore the Sunrise-Sunset Committee.
Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House of Representatives.
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