For thirty days, Gov. Bill Owens was truly the most powerful person in state government.
The concept of balance of power between the legislators and the governor is that the legislature will pass a bill, the governor has an opportunity to veto the bill, and the legislature has an opportunity to override the veto.
But language in Article 4, Section 11 of the state constitution allowing the governor the ability to avoid legislative override was written into the original 1876 constitution.
It made sense if it prodded the legislature to recognize its obligation to pass bills far enough in advance of adjournment to allow a governor time to decide on a veto, and time remaining to override the veto.
But more than a 100 years after the original constitution, the legislature is now limited to 120 successive days for each general session.
So the legislature in 2005 could not do what the 1978 legislature did. On page 994 of the 1978 House Journal of April 23, the House passed HJR 1047:
"Be it resolved...that when the General Assembly adjourns on April 23, 1978, it shall adjourn until 10 a.m., May 8, 1978".
As to bills already on the governor's desk April 23, 1978 or that would be there soon after, any vetoes would be subject to legislative override of a veto.
But in 2005, lacking any potential override of hundreds of bills that he could veto, left the governor like a 10 year old alone in a candy store.
A Rocky Mountain News story by Lynn Bartels close to the end of the legislative session provided the explanation:
The following advice is for both Democrats and Republicans, when parties have split control of the legislature and the governor's office.
If Democrats want to have a shot at overriding vetoes in 2006, courtesy must give way to that simple anti-drug slogan: "Just say NO!"
While late bills dropped greatly in 2005, delayed bills made up the slack, leaving the legislature deep in bill-mud near the end of the session and the governor in veto heaven.
It is hard for legislative leadership to say "no:. They may well anger party members and produce retaliation against leadership goals. But once it is clear that all majority legislators are being treated alike, the rancor will cease.
The goal for the party in control of the legislature should be to pass bills within the window of possibly overriding a veto. Instead of giving the governor of the other party an opportunity to feast on hundreds of bills, the legislature could easily limit the potential damage to perhaps 50-75 bills. How?
Save all non-procedural resolutions, joint resolutions, concurrent resolutions, memorials, or other fluff until the end of the session.
Say "no" to delayed or late bill status.
Meet Friday afternoons on a regular schedule.
Set a goal of finishing the major part of the work by the 100th day. You may not totally succeed, but the governor will have fewer bills to consider after adjournment.
According to the Colorado Senior Lobby, Inc. June Newsletter "Governor Owens' 47 vetoes sets a record in the number of vetoes issued by a governor." I don't know if this is accurate, but I assume the Senior Lobby author reviewed each legislative session since 1876.
Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.
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