post

Wondering what the Colorado Legislature is up to in the waning days of the session?

Laura Carno
May 1, 2016
By Laura Carno
As happens every year, the last few weeks of the Colorado Legislative session is jam-packed with shenanigans. There is something about the impending close of the session that makes legislators and lobbyists fight to take their final pound of flesh from Coloradans.Every year, each legislator is able to run 5 bills. With a total of 100 legislators between the two chambers, there should be 500 bills. I previously blogged about my own State Representative Paul Lundeen’s resolution to reduce the duration of the legislative session and the number of bills each legislator carries. Sadly, that resolution failed both last year and this year.

As of this writing, there have been 666 bills proposed, plus memorials and resolutions. That means that there were 166 “late bills” (a full 33% more than the 500 “normal” bills introduced) that the Speaker of the House or the President of the Senate approved to be introduced late in addition to the original 500.

What are we, the taxpayers, getting in these extra late bills, and why is it a problem?

First, if the bill was important enough, why wasn’t it in a legislator’s initial 5 bills?

Second, due to the compressed time frame, the rules are often suspended to allow the late bill to make its way through the legislative process more quickly. The steps involved in typical bill passage —which can take weeks or months— include:

  • Introduction in the first chamber
  • Assignment to a committee
  • The committee hearing
  • Second reading on the floor
  • Third reading, final passage on the floor
  • Introduction in the second chamber
  • Assignment to a committee
  • The committee hearing
  • Second reading on the floor
  • Third reading, final passage on the floor

There may be additional steps depending on whether either chamber had amendments, and conference committees if both chambers didn’t agree on the final version as amended. For late bills, all of these steps can be completed in a matter of days, not weeks or months.

Out of the 166 late bills so far, there are three bills worthy of your attention.

First is Senate Bill 16-193, Concerning the Duties of the Safe2Tell Program. Sounds great on the surface. We want children to feel safe to tell a responsible person about a threat to the school. The bill aims to provide “at no charge to the school” a Safe2Tell program centrally run by the state. That state program will cost the taxpayers more than $200,000 annually, per the fiscal note for this bill.

This bill codifies a 2015 working group report that establishes the structure of Safe2Tell, including:

  • Replacing local control with a new state-level bureaucrat
  • A loss of due process as investigations would be based on whether a student poses a threat as opposed to whether a student has made a threat.
  • New student data collection to align with multi-state guidelines

With all of the data-privacy concerns on previous education bills, why rush this one through? What’s the hurry? The working group concluded its work in 2015. If this was so urgent, why didn’t any legislator carry it as one of their 5 bills, as opposed to rushing it through as a late bill, with very little opportunity for public input?

Interestingly, the Republican leadership in the Senate, and the Democrat leadership in the House are sponsoring this bill. That would indicate that they expect to get their caucuses in line and pass this bill.

Next is House Bill 16-1454, the Primary Participation Act. In the aftermath of the inaccurate national reporting on Colorado’s delegate selection process, we heard from lawmakers that something needed to be done. Although there was also significant accurate reporting from the ground in Colorado, from Mike Rosen, Ari Armstrong, and my piece in National Review, the national narrative has stuck.

Yet in Colorado, we heard that if the legislature doesn’t pass a law giving Colorado a Presidential Primary now, there would be a ballot initiative that will give us something even worse. And that ballot initiative is being led by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, and is supported by the Colorado GOP Chair and the Colorado Secretary of State, among other public servants. You would be wise to ask why the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce cares how Republicans and Democrats go about electing their party’s nominee. According to the Denver Business Journal:

“….. to get more moderate individuals involved in a process of selecting candidates that ….. has become too partisan and led to stalemates rather than compromise in Congress and the Legislature, especially on business-related bills.”

Ah, I see now, the Denver Metro Chamber wants a Colorado State Legislature that is more moderate. They don’t care about the Presidential Primary. Yet the primary is the alleged emergency causing this last minute legislation.

Remember the last time a legislator told us we’d have to put up with bad legislation in order to keep something worse from befalling us? That’s when Colorado passed “AmyCare”. Our obligation is to fight the bad legislation, or ballot initiative. Not to accept something that is slightly less bad.

Whether the ballot initiative or this year’s bill are successful, either one would take effect for the 2020 Presidential Primary.

So what’s the hurry?

House Bill 16-1454 was introduced on Friday afternoon, April 22nd, and the committee hearing was Monday, April 25th. This is what it looks like to suspend the rules at the end of the legislative session. If you are a concerned citizen who doesn’t live in the Denver area, how likely was it for you to rearrange your schedule to attend the committee hearing, to make your voice heard, between Friday and Monday? The supporters of this bill say that moving to a primary gives everyone, including those registered as Unaffiliated, a chance to have a voice. I’m asking that the legislature not pass this bill and give the people of Colorado a chance to have a voice in the process.

Again, what’s the hurry?

Finally, Senate Bill 16-206, Concerning a Ban on Powdered Alcohol was introduced two days ago. Recall that in 2015, there was a similar bill to ban powdered alcohol, to which I was in strong opposition. It finally passed, but was amended down to say that powdered alcohol would be regulated like regular alcohol, which was how the inventor proposed it be handled in each state. It was not banned, nor should it have been banned.

SB 16-206 doesn’t seem to be in response to anything. Unlike the primary bill, there is no hot news story creating a sense of urgency. So, what’s the hurry?

As a reminder, this is the state where weed is legal for recreational use. And alcohol is also legal, provided there is water in it. Go figure.

Like the Safe2Tell bill, a bi-partisan leadership team also sponsors this bill. Why are the Republican Senate President and the Democrat Speaker of the House both so interested in passing a ban on powdered alcohol and rushing it through at the end of session? I’m open to theories.

My message to legislators on both sides of the aisle: Passing bills in a rushed manner, without ample notice and the without the ability for public input is not what we expect from you. Kill these bills as a matter of principle. The sponsors can bring them back during the next legislative session if they are that important.

This is why so many are saying that Government Ruins Nearly Everything.

Check out LauraCarno.com