Understanding COW Amendments

When a bill passes out of the last committee of reference to which it has been referred by the presiding officer or routed based on its projected fiscal and/or appropriation impact, it returns to the floor of that chamber for Second Reading. In each chamber, Second Reading provides all members of that chamber opportunity to debate each bill that has passed out of the committee process.

When a chamber takes up Second Reading, a member will move that the chamber resolve itself into the “Committee of the Whole” for purposes of Second Reading. The phrase “Committee of the Whole” or “COW” refers to all members of that chamber: the whole House or the whole Senate.

During Second Reading, all members of a chamber are eligible to speak for or against, and move amendments to, each bill that is considered. Members will vote on each amendment that is moved, either by voice vote or standing “division” voting.

Each amendment offered to a bill must fit under the bill title, as required by Article V, Section 21 of the Colorado Constitution. During Second Reading, the member appointed by chamber leadership to serve as the chair holds the power to determine whether an amendment meets that single subject requirement.

During Second Reading, non-partisan chamber staff carefully log each motion made and the outcome, pass or fail, of each motion. Any amendments that pass during Second Reading are then incorporated into the bill and a new version is published. Having an accurate record of what happened to each bill during Second Reading ensures that subsequent bill versions accurately represent the will of at least a simple majority of members of that chamber.

When the members of a chamber have completed their Second Reading work for a given legislative day, the Majority Leader of that chamber will move that the Committee of the Whole “rise and report”. The record maintained by non-partisan staff is summarized in a “Report of the Committee of the Whole”, which is then moved by the member who served as chairman for a vote by all members present in that chamber.

Once the member who had served as chair makes the motion to “Adopt the Report of the Committee of the Whole”, the presiding officer of that chamber confers with chamber staff to determine whether there any amendments to the Report of the Committee of the Whole, which are commonly referred to as “COW Amendments”.

If one or more members of that chamber have delivered one or more COW Amendments to the chamber desk, then the presiding officer will announce that each such amendment and then explain how he/she proposes to amend the Report of the Committee of the Whole.

COW Amendments offer members opportunity to show in the official record of the chamber, known as the “Journal” that what did happen, didn’t or that what didn’t happen, did. For example, if a member moved an amendment during Second Reading and the chair of the Committee of the Whole ruled that the amendment lost on its vote, then a member could offer a COW amendment to show that the amendment passed. 

When a member loses a Second Reading vote on an amendment, he/she might talk to one or more members who voted against it to determine why they opposed the original amendment. In some cases, the amendment sponsor might convince enough members to side with him/her on a subsequent COW amendment, which could then pass when the Report of the Committee of the Whole is adopted.

The outcome of each COW Amendment, either pass or fail, is determined by a vote supported by a simple majority or more members of a chamber. Thus, when the members of a chamber vote to approve the final Report of the Committee of the Whole, that final record reflects the final will of at least a simple majority of members of that chamber.

A member might also offer one or more COW amendments as a means to achieve a recorded vote on a matter of importance. Whereas Second Reading votes are conducted by voice or standing division votes, COW amendments are approved or rejected with recorded voting for each member of that chamber.

** 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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