The Legislative Sunrise-Sunset Committee, age l0, recently had a near-death experience.
This six-member statutory body saw a blinding light beckoning it to heaven at the close of a Senate Business Affairs meeting in April, when amendments were added to HB l35l that would have killed the committee.
But let's begin this tale in l976, when Colorado passed the nation's first Sunset law. It automatically repealed licensing laws, but repeal could be overcome by positive legislative votes to continue a licensing law.
As chief sponsor of the measure, I knew its major benefit would not be total deregulation. Sunset would modernize statutes, strengthen consumer protection, and increase discipline against errant licensees.
The new law required reports for each occupational licensing law to be reviewed. Reports included suggested amendments, and whether the public was served by continued licensing. For those interested in the subject matter, the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) reports made good reading.
But bills to continue a licensing law were going directly to a legislative committee of reference. The reports were rarely read by committee members busy with many other bills. Discussions on minor details were time consuming. Debate of important concepts often had to wait until a measure was before the committee of the whole.
Meanwhile the legislature had to fend off attempts to add more licensing laws to our statutes, pushed by potential licensees seeking health insurance reimbursement. These bills had to be battled in committees and on the floor of each house.
Pressure was building. In response, Legislative Council in l984 appointed a subcommittee. Its job: Review Sunset bills, read DORA reports, and suggest final language (including amendments) to Legislative Council.
This approach worked. Based on that success, I sponsored the bill establishing the six member (four majority, two minority) Sunrise-Sunset Committee in l985. Sunset would review existing licensing laws. Sunrise would consider applications for new licensing.
Why would six members, three from each house, be better able to do original reviews than committees of reference? The answer is FOCUS. Committees of reference have some expertise in turf battles (podiatrists vs. orthopedics, chiropractors vs. physical therapists). But aspects such as testing, fees, unlawful acts, disciplinary actions, licensing committee makeup, have similarities that allow Sunset committee members to compare occupational laws, consider which ones work, and modernize antiquated statutes.
What you had was an expert committee on occupational licensing. Members read the reports, cross-examined proponents and opponents, and came forward with amendments that committees of reference accepted without argument (except as to turf jurisdiction).
And, by having proponents of new licensing laws funneled through the committee, we quickly built up an expertise (and a cynicism) as to whether additional licensing was needed. Just as teachers hear about the dog that ate the homework, the committee heard about, but rarely saw, the mythical consumers who were demanding licensing for another occupation.
In the first two years of operation, ten applications for additional occupational licensing came to the committee. Only one bill was approved, which became law in l988.
In l986-87, committees of reference didn't have to deal with nine requests for licensing. Procedural amendments to existing licensing laws were accepted without long debate. Turf battles still continued. In general, this has been the routine since l986, so why was the l994 attempt made to kill the committee?
Any law is only as good as the persons appointed to carry it out. In l985, both House Speaker Bledsoe and Senate President Strickland were committed to making Sunrise-Sunset work. The first six members appointed were Reps. Jim Moore, Bill Owens, Jerry Kopel, and Sens. John Donley, Steve Durham, and Jana Mendez. Five of the six voted together and Sen. Mendez asked to be replaced before the l986 hearings. Sen. Bob Martinez then joined the committee.
To be effective, this committee needs a certain type of legislator. He or she should believe in deregulation, and that the burden for additional regulation is on the proponent. He or she has to have the self-assurance to withstand the pressure of lobbyists. There are legislators like that in l994, but they may not be the majority on the present committee. They did make up the majority of membership from l985 through l992.
HB l35l was introduced by Rep. Agler in l994 to end nuisance Sunrise applications by requiring applicants to produce visible support from within and outside the occupation. After an initial Sunset review of an existing agency, the bill allowed a longer breathing spell before a future review. Some reviews were moved to l995. Advisory committees would undergo additional Sunset reviews. It was a modest bill, but with a broad title.
In Senate Business Affairs, Sen. Bob Schaffer, Sen. Bill Schroeder, and Sen. Tilman Bishop combined to present amendments that returned the law to l984: No Sunrise applications and Sunset bills would go directly to committees of reference. It passed 6 to l.
However, in Senate floor debate, Sen. Martinez persuaded most Democrats that the amendment was harmful, and Senate President Tom Norton spoke on what the amendment would do to the workload of committees of reference which were already under great strain.
The amendment died, and the fairly innocuous bill was adopted. But the issues raised by the three senators will not disappear. This may be a good time for an outside review of Sunrise-Sunset and its committee by Legislative Audit. The scope could be what has been accomplished, how much money has been saved through chilling additional licensing, through repealing some licensing statutes, and through modernizing existing laws.
Whether Sunrise-Sunset gets back on track in l995 is up to legislative leadership. The talent is there in the House and Senate. They need to be appointed to the committee.
Copyright 2015 Jerry Kopel & David Kopel