No Law But By Bill

Article V, Section 17 of the Colorado Constitution states, “No law shall be passed except by bill, and no bill shall be altered or amended on its passage through either house as to change its original purpose.”

Sometimes, constituents will contact one or more state legislators to request some minor change be made to existing law. Their request might be to change a single word and their expectation high for such a simple ask. However, the only way that the Colorado General Assembly can add to, remove from, or change existing state law is by bill.

For a bill to be introduced, the Colorado General Assembly must be convened in session. In Colorado, there are two types of legislative sessions: general and special. General sessions occur between January and May each year and can last no longer than 120 days. In Colorado, a rare special session can be called for a specific purpose as defined in the proclamation for that special session. Otherwise, the Colorado General Assembly cannot be convened in session, no bills can be introduced, and no changes made to state law.

When the General Assembly is convened and a bill has been introduced, that bill must proceed through the legislative process as required by the state constitution. It must be referred to at least one Committee of Reference of that first chamber and a public hearing held by that committee for that bill. 

If the bill were to pass out of that committee, then it might be routed to one or more other committees based on the financial aspects of the bill and/or any appropriation of funding for it. If the bill were to pass out of its last required committee, then it would need to pass on Second Reading in that first chamber. Then, at least one legislative day later, it would need to pass on Third Reading in that chamber.

From there, the bill would move to the second chamber where that same process must be completed. If the bill were considered during an annual general session, then all those steps in both chambers must be completed at or before midnight of the 120th day.

If the bill were to pass through the second chamber, then it would be delivered to the governor for his consideration. If the governor were to not veto that bill, then it would become law.

The people of Colorado have limited the authority of their state legislature to add to, remove from, or change state law. Our state legislators must follow this long and detailed process because the Colorado Constitution requires ‘no law but by bill.’

The second part of Article V, Section 17 offers another important limitation that the people of Colorado have placed on their state legislators. That is, each bill must have a single subject (title). Unlike how things work in Congress and some state legislatures, the Colorado General Assembly is not allowed to blend unrelated matters into a bill, with exception for general appropriation bills. Thus, for the General Assembly to change some unrelated portion of Colorado state law, a different bill would need to be introduced for that purpose.

** 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.

Sign Up to Receive Email Updates

Join our email list to receive press releases and other important news about legislation delivered straight to your inbox.

You have Successfully Subscribed!