Understanding the Colorado Veto Process

When the President of the United States receives a bill from Congress, our federal legislature, the President can sign that bill into law, veto the bill, or derail the bill by taking no action. Under that federal process, if the President decides to take no action, then the bill would not become law. That scenario is commonly referred to as “pocket veto”.

States are different, based primarily on the unique state constitution of each state in which the people of each state have delegated authority in ways unique to each state. Here in Colorado, the Governor has three options for each bill that reaches his/her desk. First, the Governor can sign a bill into law. Second, to veto it. Third, to allow the bill to become law without his/her signature. In Colorado, there is no “pocket veto” option.

During a legislative session, the Governor has ten days to decide which of those three options will be used for each bill that reaches his/her desk. After a session, the Governor has thirty days to make those decisions. If the Governor takes no action on a bill, then when the applicable timeframe has elapsed, the bill becomes law without his/her signature.

Those options are addressed in Article IV, Section 11 of the Colorado Constitution, which states:

Every bill passed by the general assembly shall, before it becomes a law, be presented to the governor. If he approve, he shall sign it, and thereupon it shall become a law; but if he do not approve, he shall return it, with his objections, to the house in which it originated, which house shall enter the objections at large upon its journal, and proceed to reconsider the bill. If then two-thirds of the members elected agree to pass the same, it shall be sent, together with the objections, to the other house, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two-thirds of the members elected to that house, it shall become a law, notwithstanding the objections of the governor. In all such cases the vote of each house shall be determined by ayes and noes, to be entered upon the journal. If any bill shall not be returned by the governor within ten days after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a law in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the general assembly shall by their adjournment prevent its return, in which case it shall be filed with his objections in the office of the secretary of state, within thirty days after such adjournment, or else become a law.”

When the Governor vetoes a bill, it is returned to the chamber from which it originated. House bills are returned to the House and Senate bills are returned to the Senate. If the General Assembly is still in session, then the originating prime sponsor of the bill would decide whether to seek a legislative override of the veto. However, if the General Assembly has adjourned “sine die” (without date) from the session during which that bill passed, then the legislature cannot reconvene. Thus, there could be no override.

That is the primary reason why the Governor has a ten-day window during a session and a thirty-day window after a session to decide what to do with each bill. If the General Assembly delivers a bill to the Governor by the 109th day of a 120-day general session, then the Governor would need to return a veto to the General Assembly no later than the 119th day, which could allow time for both chambers of the legislature to consider an override prior to midnight of the 120th day.

Beginning on the 110th day of a general session, a bill that is delivered to the Governor could be vetoed just prior to midnight of the 120th day, which would eliminate opportunity for the General Assembly to consider an override. Since the General Assembly cannot reconvene for general session after the 120th day, the Governor is granted up to thirty days to decide which option to take on each bill after each session has concluded.

In order to achieve a legislative override, at least two-thirds of the members elected to each chamber must vote in support of that effort. In the Colorado House, that would be at least 44 of 65 Representatives and in the Colorado Senate, that would be at least 24 of 35 Senators. Any less than 2/3 of each chamber and the override effort would fail.

** 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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