Jerry Kopel

On Jan. 9th, the Colorado legislature opened the Sixtieth General Assembly with senior members greeting newcomers, and everyone chatting about the November elections. In the Senate, Reading Clerk William Badger the Fourth read the title of the FIRST bill introduced, SB 01, by Sen. Dick Mutzebaugh "Concerning Vehicle Registration Fees for Trucks and Truck Tractors".

One hundred and nineteen days later, on May 8th, several hours before the 1995 legislative session ended at midnight, the House and Senate adopted a conference committee report and FINALLY passed SB 01.

In the House, the EXACT same fate (Jan.9 to May 8) befell HB 1002 by Rep. Vickie Agler, the second bill to be introduced, entitled "Regulating Authority of Board of Medical Examiners."

In-between Jan. 9 and May 8, the legislature considered 597 bills, and passed 296, of which three have been vetoed, leaving 293. But those statistics are strictly skin-deep. Some bills that died were then successfully added into other bills or just reintroduced in the other house.

Think of legislators as professors of higher education who must "publish or perish". Too many legislators believe they must "pass laws or lose office" and they wear bills that do make it into law as trophy pelts.

Actually, the voting public could care less. Outside of thirty-plus bills that grab headlines, whether or not of any substance, everything else is a dull blur, except to grateful lobbyists and other potential sources for political donations.

Overall pass-fail statistics on each legislator don't account for extraneous forces:

LOBBYISTS' BILLS. Lobbyists flock to legislators who prove they know how to get bills passed, then offer them more bills to carry, and then work hard to get those bills passed, thus adding to that legislator's "successful" record....all in all a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Lobbyists obviously look to majority party members first, because they have better overall odds for bill passage. Next, lobbyists pick a legislator to match a bill. If it is a controversial measure that requires knowledge, intelligence, ability to think in debate, the lobbyist will pick an intelligent legislator.

But if the bill appears simple on its face (but with a possible hidden agenda), the lobbyist will prepare the speech to give in committee, sit beside the legislator or close by, and prepare another speech to be given on second reading. Here intelligence is unneeded, and might even be counterproductive if the legislator actually figured out what he or she was carrying.

On a personal note, I would often in the 70's and 80's ask serious questions on second reading of carriers of "simple" bills, watch their eyes glaze over and hands begin to shake, as runners tried to carry answers from lobbyists pressed against the glass in the rear of the House, to their beleaguered sponsor.

MAJORITY ATTITUDE: There aren't many partisan bills debated in the legislature. If the majority party attitude towards the minority party is one of genuine hostility as opposed to indifference or cooperation, it shows up in the overall statistics.

TEACHING HOW TO KILL: New minority party legislators may do poorly. That's partly due to lack of experience, but also because seniors in the majority party (at least in the House) show their new members how to kill bills by targeting new minority party members....just as grey-haired wolves bring small live animals back to the den for pups to practice killing.

ELIMINATE THE OBVIOUS: For any statistics to make sense, bills that "have to pass" need to be removed from the count. The major budget bill (the long bill), the legislative budget, the supplemental appropriations bills and the revisor's bill are no more relevant to pass-fail statistics than a flat tire is to the need for an oil change.

This removes 25 bills from the total, with a record of 24 passed, one killed. Of the remaining 572 bills, 269 passed and 303 were killed (including the three vetoes):

  • The 24 House Democrats had 33 bills passed and lost 74 for a 30.8 percent pass rate.

  • The 41 House Republicans had 137 bills passed and lost 116 for a 53.8 percent pass rate.

  • The 16 Senate Democrats had 27 bills passed and lost 55 for a 32.9 percent pass rate.

  • The 19 Senate Republicans had 72 bills passed and lost 58 for a 55.4 percent pass rate.

Are the House and Senate figures, 30.8 and 32.9 percent for Democrats and 53.8 and 55.4 percent for Republicans, just coincidental?

Big hitters among House Republicans were Adkins and Anderson, with eight wins each. These numbers resulted from interim bills, late bills, heavy lobby-backed bills, and experience. Adkins introduced 13 bills and Anderson 12, more than any of the other 63 House members. Their 16 successful bills were only three short of the 19 measures successfully carried by 20 of the 24 House Democrats. (The other four Democrats had 14 successes.)

As expected, new House minority members had a rough time: Chavez, 0 and 4; Lamm, 0 and 4; Saliman, 0 and 3. Clarke was 2 and l and Tupa, l and 3. Total: 3 and 15.

Some new House majority members did very well: Congrove, 4 and l; Lawrence, 5 and 0; Sullivant, 4 and 0; Swenson, 4 and 0. All other new House majority members had 15 passed and 28 failed. Overall total: 32 passed and 29 failed...not as good as other House Republicans, but light years better than House Democrats, both new and old.

In the Senate, Ament and Schroeder had identical records of 9 passed and 1 failed, but the senator with the most bills introduced was Mutzebaugh with 8 passing and 6 failing. Ament, Schroeder and Mutzebaugh, with 26 bills passed, were one less than the 27 successful bills of all 16 Senate Democrats.

New Senate minority members (new in never having served before in the legislature) Matsunaka, Perlmutter and Weddig did well, with six passing and six failing bills, a much better record than that of the senior Senate Democrats.

Lobbyists and others should take note that there is no real correlation between "clout" and pass rates. One example: The six legislative members of the Joint Budget Committee. Does anyone doubt their clout? Eliminate the appropriation measures and these six legislators introduced 35 bills and only 14 passed for a 40 percent pass rate. Only Grampsas had more passed than failed.

The one statistic that does strike hard is the number of successful bill "allocated" to the majority party. Republicans are sixty percent of the legislature, but they had 78 percent of all bills passed.

Postscript One: The percentages for Democrats could have been worse. As I wrote for a 1993 column, in 1971 there were 27 Democrats in the House, three more than present. They had 26 bills passed out of 182 introduced, for a 14 percent pass rate.

Postscript Two: Denver Post's Fred Brown published his statistics early and, as he stated "calculations by columnist." The one error that I'll mention is one he probably regrets, since the subject-matter is certain the press is "out to get him". Sen. Duke didn't lose three bills. He couldn't. He only introduced two bills.

Postscript Three: What are the odds of a state representative and his Senate sponsor BOTH being on the short end for two of the three vetoes issued thus far by Gov. Romer? Well, it happened to Rep. Bill Martin (R), chief sponsor of HB 1111 and HB 1214, and Sen. Dave Wattenberg (R). When the Colorado legislature convenes in January, their friends may not call out "Hey Bill" or "Hey Dave"...they may chirp "Hey, Veto".



Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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