Learn the Rules of the Colorado General Assembly

Article V, Section 12 of the Colorado Constitution states, “Each house shall have power to determine the rules of its proceedings…”. That delegation of power from the people to their state legislature recognizes that the three branches of Colorado government are separate and equal. Matters of legislative rule do not fall under the authority of the Executive or Judicial Branches, they are determined and enforced solely within the Legislative Branch.

It is important to differentiate constitutional issues from matters of legislative rule. With statehood in 1876 and by amendments since, the people of Colorado have established in their state constitution various requirements and prohibitions for their state legislature. Such constitutional matters must be honored, cannot be altered by legislative rule, and can be considered by the Judicial Branch. Matters of legislative rule, those that are not addressed in the state constitution, are within the exclusive domain of the Legislative Branch.

The Rules of the Colorado House of Representatives are based on Roberts Rules of Order, which is a manual of parliamentary procedure written by Henry Martyn Robert. The Rules of the Colorado Senate are based upon Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure, which is the manual of legislative procedure written by Paul Mason.

Outside of a state legislative environment, people tend to be familiar with or have at least heard of Roberts Rules of Order. “Roberts Rules”, as they are more commonly known, are often used by private organizations that conduct parliamentary meetings. Conversely, people who have not served in a state legislature are generally less familiar with “Masons” because of its exclusive application to legislative procedure. As a side note, Mason’s Manual is not associated with the freemason fraternal organization, the similarity of name is simply a coincidence.

The Rules of the Colorado House, Colorado Senate, and Joint Rules that apply to both chambers are available online. The Rules webpage provides a link to a PDF copy of the current Rules of the Colorado General Assembly. For reference, the URL to the online Rules is:


When examining the House, Senate, or Joint Rules of the Colorado General Assembly, it can be helpful to keep in mind that states are different. In turn, the legislative process in each state can be different. If you are familiar with the legislative process in a state other than Colorado, then be prepared for things to work differently here. Conversely, don’t assume that the legislative process in some other state is the same as it is here in Colorado.

Since statehood in 1876, the people of Colorado have reserved to themselves the power to amend their state constitution without the involvement of their state legislature, and they have done so many times regarding how their state legislature operates. In turn, legislative Rules have changed to comply with the requirements and prohibitions found primarily in Article V of the Colorado Constitution.

The Rules of the Colorado House of Representatives can be amended by the members of the House. The Rules of the Colorado Senate can be amended by the members of the Colorado Senate. Joint Rules that apply to both chambers can be amended by votes cast in both chambers.

When newly elected members of the Colorado House and Senate arrive at the State Capitol, they are encouraged to learn the rules. Similar to learning the rules of a sport and then unique rules of a particular league within that sport, it is necessary to understand how the Colorado General Assembly operates, then how the House and Senate are different.

For example, in Major League Baseball, National League pitcher take their turn at bat, while American League pitchers do not. Same sport, different league rules. Likewise, the Rules of one legislative chamber are not necessarily the same as the rules of another chamber, another state, or in Congress, which is our federal legislature.

It can be easy to adopt a linear understanding of legislative rules. That is, to assume that the legislative process always follows the same linear process of A, then B, then C. Such a perspective is reinforced when the Colorado House and/or Senate operate under General Orders, which refers to the common order of business in each chamber. However, a linear understanding of legislative Rules can easily be shaken when things don’t happen according to a routine process.

Establishing a dynamic, fluid, understanding of legislative rules requires time and experience. Less experienced members might consider a rule that requires that “A” be done in order to get to “B” as the action plan to get to “C”. But, what if a more experienced member doesn’t want “C” to ever happen?

For example, a motion to reconsider a bill might easily be taken as a sign that a member voted incorrectly and is requesting a “do over”. Under that scenario, that member would want to get to “C”; to vote again on that bill. But what if a member doesn’t want “C” to ever happen?

If chamber Rules allow for reconsideration to be granted by a simple majority of members on a first request, but unanimous support would be required to grant a second request, then a member on the prevailing (winning) side of the original vote might move for immediate consideration and ask for a “No” vote on his/her own motion in order to eliminate that easier path to “C”.

In order to be more effective at the Colorado Capitol, you should read and understand the House, Senate, and Joint Rules of the Colorado General Assembly. Think dynamically and search for ways to use a requirement or prohibition in your favor. Ask questions of current legislators, especially those who serve in leadership positions.

** 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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