Action at the State Level on National Position

POSITION IN BRIEF:

Support responsive legislative processes characterized by accountability, representativeness, decision making capability and effective performance. Promote a dynamic balance of power between the executive and legislative branches within the framework set by the Constitution.

POSITION: (Adopted1973, rev. 1982)

Support of measures to insure that the structures, procedures, and practices of the Colorado legislature be characterized by:

  • Accountability. A General Assembly responsive to citizens and able to hold its own leaders, committees and members responsible for their actions and decisions.
  • Representativeness. A General Assembly whose leaders, committees and members represent the state as a whole, as well as their own districts.
  • Decision Making Capability. A General Assembly with the knowledge, resources and power to make decisions that meet the needs of Colorado and reconcile conflicting interests and priorities.
  • Effective Performance. A General Assembly able to function in an efficient manner with a minimum of conflict, wasted time and duplication of effort.
  • Open Government. A General Assembly whose proceedings in committee as well as on the floor are open to the fullest extent possible.

Based on these criteria LWVCO supports:

  • Leadership and Committees: implementing a prescribed set of procedures to give the committee itself, rather than the chairman alone, control over committee operations.
  • Committee Assignments: making assignments achieve representation of diverse interests. Review and continually evaluate the committee system in light of contemporary needs and realities.
  • Decision Making: developing mechanisms for determining state priorities. Coordinate fiscal processes in order to consider total programs, establish priorities and examine the expenditures and revenues of the budget as a whole. Eliminate unnecessary secrecy within the General Assembly and between the General Assembly and the Executive Branch. Schedule legislative activities to make effective and responsible use of legislative time. Provide adequate professional staff for legislators and for committees to secure and make effective use of information. Improve the sources and the flow of information through computerization and other methods. Use electronic voting and other time saving devices.
  • Majority Rule and Minority Rights: providing measures that would facilitate discharge of bills from committees.
  • The Right to Know: making available full information from legislative proceedings in committees as well as from floor action.
  • Executive Power: the power of the executive should be exercised within the constitutional framework of a dynamic balance between the executive and legislative branches of government.

HISTORY

The LWVCO has never studied the General Assembly as such. Members completed a national study of the U.S. Congress and, as the two bodies are similar, it was proposed and adopted at the 1973 State Convention that the LWVCO extend the LWVUS position on the U.S. Congress to cover structures, practices and procedures of the Colorado General Assembly where applicable.

In 1986 and 1987 the LWVCO helped draft legislation to improve the total budget process and actively lobbied for legislation to create a state ethics commission; neither effort was successful. However, a bill which extended the open meeting requirements of the Sunshine Act to governing boards of state institutions of higher education was passed in 1987. Amendment 41 in 2006 passed providing ethics guidelines for public officers and elected officials.

Finally, years of dissatisfaction with the legislative process culminated in the formation of a statewide coalition called Citizens for Legislative Reform. LWVCO assumed leadership of the coalition, and helped to develop the GAVEL (Give a Vote to Every Legislator) Amendment. GAVEL prohibits three legislative procedural abuses: (1) the “pocket veto,” (2) the killing of bills by a rules committee, and (3) the “binding” political party caucus. In 1988 GAVEL was placed on the general election ballot by citizen initiative (LWVCO provided 22,000 of the 68,000 petition signatures submitted). GAVEL passed with 72% of the votes cast.

During the regular and special sessions of the 1989 General Assembly, League lobbyists monitored legislative compliance with GAVEL. The first two provisions were easily implemented. Each bill assigned to a committee received a hearing and was put to a vote (no “pocket vetoes”). Each bill passed by its assigned committee(s) was calendared for action on the floor, and the House Rules Committee was abolished. However, the third provision of GAVEL – prohibition of the “binding” caucus – was violated by the majority party in both houses. Senate Republicans moved quickly to modify their violation by passing the Long Appropriations Bill from caucus to the floor without a committed vote. House Republicans held the same bill in caucus and pressed for commitment while conducting a series of elaborate, diversionary tactics.

Colorado Common Cause, a member of Citizens for Legislative Reform, brought suit in Denver District Court against 39 House Republicans, claiming violation of the “binding caucus” prohibition in GAVEL. The original case, dismissed on the grounds of absolute immunity for legislators, was appealed directly to the Colorado Supreme Court. In April 1991 the Court ruled that the lower court had been in error in not hearing or ruling on whether GAVEL had been violated. Legislative immunity, as embodied in the speech-or-debate clause of the Colorado Constitution, “does not afford a ground to dismiss a complaint for declaratory relief from alleged violations of the GAVEL amendment.” LWVCO lobbyists will continue to urge full compliance with the GAVEL Amendment.

In 2009 HB a new law authorized televised coverage of the Colorado House of Representatives (joined by the Senate in 2011). The LWVCO supported the move to allow viewing of the floor activities, which with the internet availability of committee meetings provides access to most legislative action without actually being present.

A bipartisan bill that provides an opportunity for Colorado citizens to testify to the Legislature from a remote location was passed in 2014 and began implementation in 2015. LWVCO Legislative Action Committee observers found it to be very helpful and working well in its initial, limited roll-out. The logistics, using equipment at Mesa University in Grand Junction and a large new committee hearing room in the Capitol, worked very well, allowing testimony by and questioning of witnesses who otherwise would not have been heard. We look forward to the planned expansion of this program next year.