Are there Too Many Bills?

Joint Rule 24 of the Colorado General Assembly establishes certain requirements and limitations pertaining to the sponsorship and introduction of bills during a legislative session. Section (b) (1) (A) of Joint Rule 24 allows each member of the General Assembly to introduce up to five bills during a regular session. However, several exceptions to that five-bill limit are granted in Joint Rule 24.

Those exceptions include bills for appropriations, which are generally within the purview of the Joint Budget Committee, and bills recommended by interim committees as authorized by state statute or by resolution adopted by the Executive Committee of Legislative Council.

Joint Rule 24 also provides for additional bill sponsorships to be granted to Representatives by the House Committee on Delayed Bills and to Senators by the Senate Committee on Delayed Bills. In the House that committee includes the Speaker, Majority Leader, and Minority Leader. In the Senate, that committee includes the President, Majority Leader, and Minority Leader. In order to grant an additional bill title, a member must receive support from at least two members of the Committee on Delayed Bills for his/her respective chamber.

For clarity, the five-bill limit applies to the legislator who serves as the prime bill sponsor in the first chamber. That member becomes the originating prime sponsor and his/her name will be listed first, in bold lettering, in the top left corner of a bill. The five-bill limit does not apply to the prime sponsor of a bill who serves in the second chamber or to legislators who sign on to a bill as co-sponsors. The names of co-sponsors will also be listed on each bill, with the name of each co-sponsor printed in plain text.

There can also be two co-prime sponsors of a bill from the same chamber. When that occurs in the originating chamber, then that bill would count toward the five-bill limit for both of those legislators. However, the Committee on Delayed Bills for that chamber can grant one or more additional bill titles to one or both of those members.

Working from the starting point of a five-bill limit, casual observers of the 100-member Colorado General Assembly might assume that there should be no more than 500 bills introduced during an annual general session. However, given the various exceptions to that limit, somewhere between six and seven hundred bills will typically be introduced during each, 120-day, Colorado general session. 

So… are there too many bills?

When considering that question, it can be helpful to consider what must occur for each bill. It might also be helpful to consider how the Colorado legislative process differs from the legislative process in one or more other states.

Here in Colorado, if a bill prime sponsor is working within bill deadlines and he/she wants a bill to be introduced, then the following must occur for each bill:

  • Introduced and assigned a Bill Number
  • Referred to a Committee of Reference
  • Scheduled for a public hearing, which must include public testimony
  • Action be taken by that committee to either pass or “kill” the bill
  • For the committee chair to issue a Committee Report regarding the bill
  • For that Committee Report to be delivered to the front desk of that chamber
  • For each Committee Report to be read before the members of that chamber
  • For the non-partisan staff of that chamber to list all bills that pass out of committee on the Second Reading Calendar of that chamber in the order received from the committee chairs

In most state legislative chambers, one or more legislators would have the discretionary power to decide whether a bill would proceed at certain stages of the legislative process. For example, the Speaker of the House or President of the Senate might have the power to decide whether a bill will be introduced. Those presiding officers or a leadership committee might then have authority to decide whether a bill will be referred to a committee. A bill sponsor might have the power to decide whether he/she wants to present a bill to a committee. A committee chairperson might have the power to decide whether a bill will be scheduled for a hearing.

In such cases, one legislator could “kill” a bill by taking no action. Such decisions might generically be described as opportunities to “pocket veto” a bill by ignoring it. In Colorado, our legislative process, as required or restricted by the state constitution, does not allow for such discretion.

When considering the total number of bills, it might be helpful to also consider the process required for each of those bills. In some state legislative chambers, thousands of bills might be introduced, but only a fraction of that total scheduled for a committee hearing. Here in Colorado, approximately 600 to 700 bills are introduced each year, and every one of them must receive a public hearing.

Since the legislative process differs from state-to-state, simply comparing the total number of bills introduced each session wouldn’t necessarily be an effective exercise. However, it might be enlightening to consider that Colorado typically has one of the lowest annual number of bills among the fifty state legislatures.

For those in Colorado who might want to advocate for the state legislature to reduce the five-bill limit, it might be helpful to consider that, in Colorado, the number of bill hearings, how long each of those hearings might last, and the number of long debates in the state House and Senate are probably more a result of the required process than the number of bills introduced.

It works that way in Colorado because that’s how the people of Colorado wanted it to work.

** The information provided herein is intended for general educational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you have questions of a legal nature, please consult with an attorney.

** Civics Corner content was written with the help of former Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert.

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