17 August 2011

Colorado General Assembly Adjourns Sine Die Today

CAVEAT: Trapped in a blog time warp - originally posted in May.

Today is the last day of the Colorado General Assembly's annual legislative session. As I write, two "must pass" items on the legislative agenda look unlikely to pass by the midnight deadline today: (1) the bill authorization the implementation of the year's executive branch regulations (a legislative check on executive branch power not present at the federal government level), called Senate Bill 78, which has reached a stand still as a result of a partisan dispute over payday lending charge limits adopted in the 2010 legislative session, and (2) approval of a Congressional redistricting map based on the 2010 Census for use in the 2012 election. Any bill not passed by the end of today dies.

For all of its technological marvels, the Colorado General Assembly's bill tracking system does not make it easy to do a simple search to see which bills remain in play, having been approved or defeated in the previous 119 days of the legislative session.

Governor Hickenlooper has the power to call a special legislative session limited to select issues to address these and/or other matters later this year (possibly after some of the details are hashed out in intersession committee meetings). There may be some authority (in at least some cases) to impose regulations on a temporary basis, however, and if there is no legislative resolution of the issue of Congressional redistricting, a court will have to draw Congressional district lines as it did the last time around, although it is not entirely clear when this issue becomes ripe for litigation.

The 2012 legislative session ends in May 2011, which in theory could put a Congressional district map in place in time for candidates to run August primaries and November general elections, but that still would leave the state without Congressional districts by the times that the current election law provides for candidates to declare their candidacies, and for partisan nominating caucuses in advance of the primary elections to be conducted. Normaly, the 2012 election season would start in earnest in Deccember 2011 or January 2012, although, of course, political scheming never really stops. No incumbent members of Congress from Colorado have expressed an intent not to run for re-election.

State legislative seats in Colorado's General Assembly are drawn by a blue ribbon commission that has a process pretty much guaranteed to produce a map, that does not require legislative approval. So, the deadlock on redistricting that Colorado is experiencing now is limited to races for members of the United States House of Representatives, and state offices, such as the University of Colorado Regents and Colorado Board of Education that are elected from districts that coincide with Congressional districts.

The deadlocks aren't terribly surprising, given that this is the first time in many years that different political parties have controlled the state house and state senate, particularly in the case of an inherently partisan issue like drawing Congressional districts. Republicans have a 33-32 majority in the Colorado House of Represenatives, while Democrats control the state senate.

Similarly, it is not surprising that this partisan divide has ended the tradition in place when Andrew Romanoff was Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives to adjourn the legislature a day or two earlier than the constitutional limit of a 120 day regular legislative session.

There is still an outside chance that one or both of these must pass issues will be resolved in the last ten hours of the legislative session, but I for one will not be up late listening to podcasts from the state capitol expected to see this kind of break through. At this stage of the game, it is just short of procedurally impossible to get either bill passed without large bipartisan majorities willing to suspend the rules to do so.

Once the legislative session ends, the other main remaining item of legislative business are Governor Hickenlooper's decisions to sign or veto bills passed in the last ten days of the legislative session, which he must do by June 10, 2011. It is too late to veto any bills passed by the Colorado General Assembly this year in January, February, March or April. In theory, it is also possible for citizens to sign petition to put to a vote of the people any legislation passed during the leigslative session without a "safety clause" but that has never actually happened in practice, mostly because only the very least controversial and important bills are passed without a "safety clause."

1 comment:

Michael Malak said...

From my experience, U.S. House incumbants delay declaring so that they can speak at neighborhood association and other community-level meetings without having their opponents show up demanding equal time. November of the odd-numbered year is usually when they declare.