Red flag. Oil and gas. The national popular vote. Family leave. Health care. The state budget.
Bills on those topics got lots of attention during the 120 days of Colorado’s 2019 General Assembly.
All told, you might have read stories or heard broadcast reports on about 150 bills that passed this year. But that’s not the whole story.
Of the 598 bills introduced, 460 passed. Gov. Jared Polis signed 454 and vetoed five. One other, a referred measure to the ballot, didn’t need his signature.
And 44% of the signed bills, 207 in all, took effect Friday.
A few new laws grab the spotlight each year, but you rarely hear about most of them, including the majority that took effect Friday.
Yet those measures often help to keep state government in operation.
House Bill 1012, for example, gives the Department of Personnel flexibility in how it manages lease-purchase agreements.
A few bills repealed outdated or redundant statutes. Important, yes. Do you want to read about them? Probably not.
Some bills are essential to keeping the lights on in state government. The rule review bill sets into law rules passed by state agencies. The revisors’ bill each year amends or repeals obsolete, unclear or conflicting laws. Another bill allows the soft-bound publication of laws passed in 2018. Those have to be done every year. And you rarely hear about them.
Others renew the authority of state agencies or programs that are reviewed periodically, such as 27 “sunset” measures that continued regulation of podiatry, accountancy, dialysis clinics and technicians, home care agencies, seed potato growers, the state electrical board and licensing for river outfitters.
Some sunsets do make it into news coverage, such as regulations on medical and recreational marijuana. Both received lawmakers’ OK in 2019 and were written about during the session.
And while you read plenty about the 2019-20 state budget, 17 bills introduced in February adjusted the 2018-19 budget for agencies and for school finance. Those rarely get much attention, unless someone wants to make a point. (Then-Rep. Mike Foote of Boulder, for example, persuaded the House in 2017 to kill a supplemental appropriation of $315,000 for then-Attorney General Cynthia Coffman because he was unhappy that she sued Boulder County over its fracking moratorium. The supplemental was brought back a second time and passed.)
Seven other bills, all sponsored by members of the Joint Budget Committee, enacted transfers or other mechanisms that help to balance the 2019-20 budget. But you’re likely to hear little if anything about them.
Lawmakers also run dozens of bills every year that come out of interim committees — wildfire, water, school readiness — most of which pass with little fanfare.
Lots of bills don’t get attention because they come and go very quickly. Sometimes that’s because the sponsor believes the measure isn’t quite ready for prime time and asks a committee to kill it. (This year’s House Bill 1016, for example, sought to let high schools use the same basic skills tests used by higher education).
Then there are bills that reporters and lawmakers know have no chance of getting out of a committee. Sometimes it’s because a bill is based on ideology that doesn’t carry favor with the majority party, and it winds up in a “kill” committee. Sometimes it’s a matter of personality. And sometimes it’s because a lawmaker behind a bill is good at rubbing people the wrong way.
Most legislators run bills without hope of media attention, but those measures are important to constituents or state agencies.
House Bill 1209, for example, allows airlines that provide in-state flights to stop filing semiannual on-time reports. A new lawmaker, Rep. Meg Froelich, D-Greenwood Village, sponsored that bill at the request of former legislator Joe Rice as well as the Colorado Department of Transportation.
It was Froelich’s first bill, a one-pager that she jokingly referred to as a “nothingburger.”
“It’s a way of streamlining regulation” that everyone supported, she said, and introducing it was a “great way to learn the process” since she started a little late. (She was appointed by a vacancy committee after the session started when then-Rep. Jeff Bridges was appointed to a Senate seat.)
Another bill, House Bill 1229, titled “Electronic Preservation Of Abandoned Estate Documents,” didn’t get media attention, but it matters to retiring or departing attorneys, says its sponsor, Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Eagle.
Roberts said he’d been working on this modernization bill for about two years with the Colorado Bar Association. It got no media attention, Roberts said, adding that he was surprised to be asked about it.
The law, signed by the governor May 22, lets attorneys put wills into a database. The issue is that ethical rules have required attorneys over the years to keep hard copies of wills. But as technology has improved, it’s left lawyers with file cabinets full of wills and no way to dispose of them, which they aren’t allowed to do.
Preserving a will electronically benefits family members who can then search that database rather than trying to figure out where Grandpa left it, Roberts said.
Some bills that might otherwise seem mundane make it onto the media’s pages and websites because someone — a lawmaker, lobbyist, citizen — has advocated for or against a measure and can provide a compelling story.
That’s how Senate Bill 28, which fixed a problem with beer licenses for rural restaurants caused by a 2018 measure, became a story at Colorado Politics.
Sometimes, reporters cover a bill because it’s important to a broad audience, is controversial or both.
And sometimes it’s just because it makes for a good read.