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NOONAN | Overloaded bill docket defeats good legislation and public oversight

By: PAULA NOONAN newspaper
May 4, 2018 Updated: May 4, 2018 at 4:15 am
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Editor's note: The status of bills described in this essay was as of May 2.

Lots of bills stack up at the end of each General Assembly, and usually the most important legislation remains stuck in the stacks. This year is no exception.

In the last eight days of the session, almost 300 bills out of 700+ are somewhere in the sausage-making process. Seventeen of those bills were introduced on Jan. 10. Thirty-five bills were pushed into the pipeline in the first three weeks.

These bills affect every area of Colorado life and its economy. The agriculture world can receive help from two bills, one on hemp and one on workforce development, that have been amended in the House and have to return to the Senate.

Bills affecting motor vehicle dealers, human remains disposition, and public utilities have just crossed from one chamber to the other or have been amended and have to return to the originating chamber.

Eighteen bills affecting children and domestic matters, as classified by the state, are in limbo. Of these, seven House bills are assigned to Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs, apparently to die.

Education bills on school finance, early childhood programs, professional development, teacher retention, student suicide prevention, rural education, foster youth, school safety, and teacher shortages await hearings and final votes.

Two House fracking bills related to drilling and public schools are swinging in the wind and have yet to move from House to Senate.

Health care and mental health bills concerning opioid treatments, Medicaid costs, and nursing degrees haven't passed through the gauntlet. Legislation would help rural delivery of opioid addiction services and enable individuals to manage their health care costs.

Marijuana and beer bills need resolution. Both have received great attention from their industries as legislation impacts marijuana regulation and research and beer sales from supermarkets v. liquor stores.

This aggregation of bills hung up in the legislation process pressures democracy and transparency. So many areas of life and business are affected that even the most concerned citizen can't keep up.

Daily calendars arrive late at night and bills get shoveled into evening, full-chamber hearings with little notice. The public can't react by contacting their legislators when they can' t figure out where a bill is in the process.

Important "late" bills arrive in the last weeks of the session, pushing early bills still in the hopper into longer waits for hearings and processing. This year, HB 1436 on extreme risk protection orders was introduced April 30 with the session closing on May 9.

The bill reacts to the murder of a sheriff by a man with acute mental problems. It will affect 2nd amendment rights and is bound to bring contention down to the statehouse. This bill action follows closely the large teacher rallies for more money for school finance, still undecided.

Most serious, big bills move behind doors for amendments offered by various parties without the public having a clue as to what's happening. Hundreds of thousands of Coloradans are affected by SB 200, the PERA bill. Only leadership and a few lobbyists know what tweaks are occurring to push the bill through.

Most remarkably, SB 1, the first bill introduced in the Senate this session, still hasn't had a hearing in the House, and it's assigned to three committees: Transportation and Energy, Finance, and Appropriations. This bumpy gravel road promises the bill still faces opposition. If SB 1 passes, very few citizens will know the results until the bill hits third and final reading, midnight, on the last day of the session.

The ram and jam ending of the General Assembly defeats public input and defeats competent legislation. It's much worse than making sausage.

Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state's premier legislature tracking platform.

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