As the legislature races toward its final adjournment May 11, there is still a lot to do. In addition to the regular tendency of waiting until the end of its 120-day legislative session to resolve some of the most difficult and controversial issues, the calendar will be even more stressed as new bills continue to be introduced, and must be addressed, before the session ends.
Ironically, as the legislative majority delays action on some high-profile issues and allows others to be introduced in the waning days of the session, they give additional power and influence to the minority. The majority controls to which committee bills are assigned, when those bills are heard in committees, debated by the full legislature on the floor, and which members will chair the meetings and hearing while bills are discussed.
When majority members vote together, which has become a more common practice over the years, the minorities’ most meaningful way to influence what is and is not accomplished is to use procedural mechanisms to delay the process and to force the majority to prioritize which issues are pushed through and which must be left behind.
Under Colorado’s constitution, before a bill can be enacted, it must be read at length at least twice in both the House of Representatives and the Senate unless such reading is dispensed with by unanimous consent. In most cases, such consent is granted in a perfunctory manner. However, when members of the minority are attempting the slow down the process, not granting such unanimous consent is a favorite, and relatively easy and effective way to do so. Additionally, when either the House or the Senate is debating bills on second reading, there are no limitations to either how many times or for how long any member can speak about a bill, which allows the process to be slowed considerably.
As the legislature reaches the end of the session with many high profile or controversial bills left on its agenda, the minority’s ability to influence which bills will be considered and passed is enhanced, and the effectiveness of running out the clock increases exponentially as the constitutional limit of 120 days for the General Assembly to complete its work gets closer and closer.
It’s human nature to put off the most difficult things until a deadline forces action, but in the case of the Colorado General Assembly, doing so shifts a certain amount of power from the majority to the minority. Expanding the agenda by allowing so many additional bills to be introduced in its closing days means that the minority party will have even more influence determining the timeline of what can and cannot be accomplished.
Greg Romberg had a long career in state and local government and in government relations.He represented corporate, government and trade association clients before federal, state and local governments. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie.