Jerry Kopel

Changes in the State Legislature

July 20, 2007

By Jerry Kopel

There'll be some changes made.

Change doesn't come easily in the state legislature, but next year will likely produce television of the House in session. This is a parting gift from House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who will leave the House in better shape in 2008 than it was when he entered as a freshman in 2001.

By March 2008, the buzz over the pictures will fade and boredom will set in, both on the House floor and on the screen. And "change" will likely go back to sleep, at least until House committees are included in televised format.

The original 75 legislative members, 26 in the Senate and 49 in the House, operated under extreme limitations established in the 1876 constitution.

After 1877,they could meet only in odd numbered years unless called into special session by the governor. Regular sessions were limited to 40 days, with all bills introduced within the first 25 days. Sessions became 90 days in 1884.

Early on, with limited population and limited funds, passing a two-year budget in a short time period was not too difficult. But by 1934, there were almost "regular" special sessions being called, dealing mainly with budget matters.

Finally, in the 1950 general election, the constitution was amended to provide for regular "even year" sessions beginning in 1952, but "the general assembly shall not enact any bills except those pertaining to revenue, those making appropriations, and those pertaining to subjects designated in writing by the governor during the first ten days of the session."

There were major fights, many involving court decisions, to "interpret" what "subjects" designated by the governor meant. If the chief executive used the wrong word, or a word that had several meanings, it resulted in unnecessary debate and unwanted legislation.

Thirty-two years later, legislators were finally considered grownups and allowed to decide what bills to introduce. From 1984 onward, there would be no limits on subject matter, but the numbers of days in even year sessions was limited to 140 days.

In 1989 the 140 days were changed to a 120 day limit and applied to both odd and even numbered sessions.

In the 20th century, there were, and still are, one hundred legislators, even though the state population went from 539,700 in 1900 to 4,327,000 in 2000.

By 2010, the number will be over five million, which means a legislator in 2010 will represent 10 times the number of people a legislator represented in 1900.

There were inner changes that also had ramifications. As late as 1967 through 1974, recordings of House floor actions were produced on the initiative of Rep. Chet Edmonds (R), a sound engineer from Manitou Springs. They are, of course, invaluable. They were his property and I have no idea who now has them.

A most important change happened in 1975, when the House went to an electronic voting system. That damaged the ability of opponents and supporters of a controversial measure from going desk to desk in the House while the reading clerk called for the "ayes" and "nays". (Legislators could also abstain for the first roll call.)

If enough votes had not been changed, a legislator would ask for clarification of the "aye" votes. The clerk read (possibly slowly depending on who controlled the House) and if more time was needed, another legislator would ask for a clarification of the "no" votes. Bills were killed or passed because of the time lag.

That ploy became useless when the House Speakers ordered members to cast their electronic votes, and then ordered the machine closed (unless you were really fast on the trigger).

No Change In the Capitol

For 140 years, Denver has been the state capitol. The territorial legislature named Denver the permanent territorial capitol on Dec. 8, 1867.

In the 1876 constitution, Denver remained the "temporary" state capitol until the electorate made their decision, by majority vote on Nov. 8th, 1881.

The voters choose Denver, and were reinforced by the state constitution which denied the legislature the right to change the site, but also gave the legislature exclusive privilege to put the issue on the ballot by the usual two-thirds vote.

Under Article 8, section 3, after the legislature puts the state capitol issue on the ballot, the electors can then vote to change the state capitol, but it requires a two-thirds (66 percent) of the citizen votes to favor the change.

This is the only general election vote in the constitution that requires more than a majority for passage.

(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

Home  Full archive  Biographies  Colorado history  Colorado legislature  Colorado politics   Colo. & U.S. Constitutions  Ballot issues  Consumer issues  Criminal law  Gambling  Sunrise/sunset (prof. licensing)


Copyright 2015 Jerry Kopel & David Kopel