02 May 2012

One Week Left For Colorado General Assembly

Colorado's state legislature, the Colorado General Assembly, is officially a part-time body.  It has a one hundred and twenty day session each year, absent extraordinary circumstances that cause a "special session" to be called, typically by the Governor and only for a narrow specific purpose. 

On the last day of the legislative session, the magical power of this group of people evaporates as the state house and state senate adjourn "sine die."  This year, the make or break constitutional deadline for getting legislation from the 2012 legislation session passed in May 9, a week from today. 

To be perfectly honest, I only have a dim notion of what notable bills remain live in the final week of the session.  Some are simply last minute details of appropriation bills, which are reserved for the last month of the legislative session, but many are the hardest decisions and most controversial bills of the session which have been procrastinated over until the last minute.

I know that a Civil Unions bill that passed the Democratic controlled State Senate is at risk of being killed by the Republican leadership in the State House, even though the bill probably has the votes if it makes it to the floor. 

A bill converting many minor drug felonies into misdemeanors is also in limbo.  On the merits of what kinds of sentences are appropriate for minor drug felonies, the bill would sweep to passage pretty easily with the current set of legislators.  But, intrastate budgetary federalism has reared its ugly head.  State government pays the tens of thousands of dollars per inmate per year of incarcating felons.  County governments pay the almost as costly sum per inmate per year to incarcate people converted of misdemeanors, sometimes for sentences that are nominally as long as two years before good time is considered, and county governments also have to build the jails that house these inmates.  Downgrading minor drug felonies to misdemeanor status reduces the combined state and local incarceration budget materially.  But, while the measure would reduce the state's Department of Correction's budget quite a bit, it would greatly increase the jail budgets of every county in the state.  The backers of the bill, focused on the merits of sentencing policy, failed to foresee this budget driven opposition and have scrambled to overcome the powerful local government lobbies resisting the change.

Once the session is over for the year, a week from today at midnight (Andrew Romanoff's tradition of finishing the legislative session's a day or two early hasn't lasted), there will be a few weeks when Governor Hickenlooper can consider whether to veto straggler bills or not, activity under Denver's golden dome fades away to a hush for another eight months.  Most of this year's bills will take effect July 1, 2012, and the handful that didn't manage to be passed with "safety clauses" will take effect in August. 

After a few parties and a bit of a breather, state legislators will return to thinking about their campaigns and those of their political allies in the 2012 election season, planning bills for the next legislative session, claiming credit for the session's accomplishments, and interacting with their constituents. Many will also try to get back in the flow of their second bannana day jobs. 

In the off season, under the golden dome, this is interrupted only by the odd meeting of interim committees and study committees of the General Assembly, and the comings and goings of the highest level officials in the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, State Treasurer, Secretary of State and Attorney General's office. 

The Colorado Supreme Court (then the only appellate court in the state) used to be located there as well, but has long ago relocate.  In another year, the Attorney General and the appellate courts will have a brand new building a block away, where the Colorado History Museum and old appellate court buildng used to be, looking north at downtown Denver.  The new Colorado History Museum, just a block south of its old location, opened last weekend.  The new appellate court building and Attorney General's office town look almost complete on the outside, but looks are deceiving.  As a rule of thumb, a building is roughly 50% complete when the fascade first looks finished.  For what it's worth, the new appellate court building looks like it will be the architecture momument that a highly symbolic public building should be (and the expense was pretty much necessary, as the old one was structurally unsound).  But, I'm really quite disappointed with the decision to put the entire Department of Law in one building downtown, rather than just putting the Solicitor General's office, and a few high profile political and headquarters offices in Civic Center and leaving its more prosiac duties in a less skyline hogging, less high profile, and less symbolic office space.

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