Suspending Legislative Rules During the “Last Three Days” of a Session

Each year, the Colorado General Assembly conducts a general session that can last no more than 120 legislative days. In some states, the legislature might have authority to meet year-round and in other states, the governor and/or the legislature might have authority extend an otherwise limited general session timeframe. However, those options are not available in Colorado where the 120-day session timeframe is finite. It is also worth noting that, in Colorado, a special session cannot extend a general session.

The people of Colorado approved that finite session timeframe during the November 1988 general election. That year, the legislature sent Referendum 3 to the statewide ballot, which passed with 52.33% of the vote. Thus, beginning January 1989, the Colorado General Assembly effectively became a part-time citizen legislature with a finite amount of time each year during which its law-making authority is active.

It can also helpful to consider that, here in Colorado, every bill that is introduced during a session has a Bill Number that is unique to that session. Each bill that is introduced during a session has a finite beginning and end, either pass or fail, during that session. In Colorado, a bill under the same Bill Number cannot carry over from one session to another. If the same bill topic is considered in a future session, then that would be done with a new bill with a Bill Number unique to that session. That bill would start at the beginning of the legislative process, not at some point at which a prior bill had failed.

Those restrictions and requirements generally result in an increasingly hectic pace as the Colorado General Assembly approaches the end of an annual general session. Unlike some legislatures, the Colorado legislature has a non-negotiable, constitutionally required, hard stop that occurs at or before midnight of the 120th legislative day.

During each session, non-partisan staff from the Office of Legislative Legal Services (“OLLS”) constantly monitor the number of bills that remain in the bicameral process. OLLS staff keep legislative leadership informed about those workflow management statistics. The Executive Committee of Legislative Council then works with the four, non-partisan, agency directors and non-partisan chamber staff to conclude each session according to the restrictions and requirements of the Colorado constitution.

One option that is available to each chamber is to suspend certain legislative rules in order to accelerate workflow during the final days of a general session. Article V, Section 12 of the Colorado Constitution allows each chamber to determine its own rules. For reference, the rules of the Colorado House, Colorado Senate, and Joint rules that apply to both chambers, are available here.

Since 1989, Colorado legislative tradition has led to a common phrase that is often shared at the State Capitol during the last days of a general session. That phrase is “the last three days.” Generally, the Colorado General Assembly convenes on the first or second Wednesday of January, which results in the 120th consecutive day thereafter occurring on the corresponding first or second Wednesday of May.

Thus, during most years since 1989, the Colorado General Assembly has operated on a 120-day session calendar that concluded on a Wednesday. Since the final week of most general assemblies have ended with the last three days being Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, the expression “the last three days” became commonplace.

However, it is important to note that one or both chambers of the Colorado General Assembly can suspend its rules at any time during a session. That authority is not limited to the “the last three days” of a session.

For example, each legislative day, Senate Rule 1(b) requires the President of the Senate to designate a member of the Senate to lead members and guests in the pledge of allegiance. On occasions when a school group or special guest is in the chamber, the Senate Majority Leader might offer a motion to temporarily suspend Senate Rule 1(b), to allow a non-member to lead the chamber in the pledge of allegiance. Such motions are customarily approved.

As the 120th day of a general session approaches, chamber leadership may decide to suspend more substantial rules pertaining to legislative process. For example, portions of Senate Rule 22 regarding Committee Rules might be suspended to allow Senate committees of reference to meet more frequently or in locations other than what is provided in the rule. Such rule suspensions might also allow bills to move from one committee to another in a shorter timeframe than is overwise allowed by the rule.

While the two chambers of the Colorado General Assembly may suspend legislative rules, members of the Colorado House and Senate do not have the authority to suspend constitutional requirements or restrictions. For example, Article V, Section 22 of the Colorado Constitution states “Every bill shall be read by title when introduced, and at length on two different days in each house; provided, however, any reading at length may be dispensed with upon unanimous consent of the members present.” 

Note that constitutional requirement addresses both reading of bills and that Second and Third Reading for any given bill must be conducted on two separate days in each chamber. Since those are constitutional requirements, the legislature must abide by them throughout a session.

For example, in order to pass through the bicameral legislative process a bill must pass on Second Reading in the second chamber by midnight of the 119th legislative day. If that occurs, then that bill could be considered on Third Reading in the second chamber on the 120th day. If not, then that bill could not complete the bicameral process before midnight of the 120th day. When that occurs, it is customary that the bill would be laid over until a specified date with the underlying motion being supported by a vote of a committee or chamber. Such a motion effectively “kills” the subject bill based on timeline, which becomes the finite end of that bill.

When nearing the end of a Colorado general session, it is wise to consult with legislative leadership in each chamber to determine what rules they might be suspended and when. Keep in mind, however, that “three days” is just an expression based on our unique legislative history.

It works that way 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.

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!