Caucus Positions Prohibited

It is fairly common in Colorado that well-intentioned advocates from outside the Colorado Capitol become frustrated with the leader(s) of their party caucus for failing to enforce ‘party discipline’. One or more members of a given caucus might have sponsored a bill, voted a certain way on a bill, or made a statement that those advocates considered to be contrary to their chosen party platform. Those advocates expected caucus leadership to take corrective action, to enforce, discipline, or punish that member(s). But that didn’t happen, and frustration was the result.

Such activity occurs in Congress, our federal legislature that meets in Washington, DC. Thus, advocates tend to assume that such things occur in their state legislature that meets in Denver. But that would be a false assumption. If you take exception to that premise, then rather than get mad, ask “Why?”

Article V, Section 22a of the Colorado Constitution states, Caucus positions prohibited – penalties. (1) No member or members of the general assembly shall require or commit themselves or any other member or members, through a vote in a party caucus or any other similar procedure, to vote in favor of or against any bill, appointment, veto, or other measure or issue pending or proposed to be introduced in the general assembly.”

Subsection (2) of Section 22a then provides one exception to that prohibition, which applies to the election of caucus and chamber leadership. Members of a caucus or chamber will campaign to each other for such leadership positions. In those cases, a member is allowed to endorse or pledge his/her vote to another member. Otherwise, there are no other exceptions to the prohibition.

As for penalties, Article V, Section 22b then makes clear that “Any action taken in violation…” of that constitutional prohibition “…shall be null and void.”

The prohibition of caucus positions in the General Assembly was added to the Colorado Constitution by a vote of the people in 1988. It was part of what appeared on the ballot that year as “Amendment 8”, aka the “GAVEL Amendment”, which passed with 72% of the vote that year.

The GAVEL amendment also requires that every bill that is introduced in the Colorado General Assembly receive a public hearing and that all measures (bills, resolutions, memorials, appointments, etc.), that are reported out committee appear on the calendar of that chamber in the order received. The GAVEL Amendment made very significant, lasting, and non-negotiable changes to how the Colorado General Assembly operates.

It is understandable that people who live in Colorado today might not be aware of those changes. Afterall, many people who live and vote in Colorado today hadn’t even been born when Amendment 8 appeared on the Colorado ballot. Most people don’t have the time, interest, or a source from which to learn about those things. But you did and know you know.

Thank you for taking time to learn about our unique state legislature. It works in unique ways here 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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