Caldara: The case for a 90-day Colorado legislative session

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(You can listen to this column, read by the author, here).

I was that kid in high school who would wait until the night before the term paper was due to even get started, as you can tell, a practice I honor to this day with this column. Of course, it was good enough to slide through high school; the paper was always lousy.

That’s OK, coming from a sloppy high school kid. But would you trust that kid to spend $35 billion of your money and make the laws that govern every aspect of your life? Because, you have.

The Colorado legislative session is 120 days long and, yet again, almost all the important work was left to the last few days and done to the quality my high school teachers came to expect of me.

A 120-day session is remarkably long. Texas, for example, has a 90-day session only every other year.

We have 100 legislators. Each one is allotted five bill titles, for a total of 500. Of course, like the high school teacher who keeps allowing late assignments with no consequence, legislative leaders allow late bill status, which this year pushed the count to more than 700 bills.

Nearly 300 of those 700 bills were dealt with in the last three days of their four-month-long session! By law, it takes at least three days to pass a bill. They waited until legal night before starting their term papers.

I have an initiative to amend the state Constitution working its way through the process that would reduce the legislative session from 120 days to 90 days. I now realize I made a serious error with my initiative. I should have written it to reduce the session from 120 days to three.

Decades ago, the legislature referred a measure to the people to limit their own session to 120 days. The legislators did it themselves. So why does it take an initiative now? You’d think lawmakers would be thrilled to get back to their lives sooner.

The sad fact is an increasing number of legislators want the legislature to be their life. They don’t want to be a citizen legislator and have a real job and then donate a few months to represent their constituents.

Too many legislators desire their “real” job to be “legislator.” They want to emulate the California system and have a full-time, yearlong legislature.

So, instead of working in your community, dealing with the very issues you deal with and driving on the same pot-holed streets, your representatives want to make their living from government and live mostly out of your district. You know, just like the U.S. Congress.

Their wish might come sooner than you think. Although our constitution clearly limits it to “120 calendar days,” Gov. Jared Polis, during COVID, decided the session could be broken up into pieces. The Colorado Supreme Court agreed, saying “calendar days” don’t need to be consecutive days.

Try that trick with your mortgage company sometime. “Oh, I’ll pay you in 30 calendar days, like in three or four months.”

As the elected industrial complex tries to become more like California, they could split those 120 days up and spread them throughout the year. And we can assume a healthy pay raise for legislators would come with it.

Legislators are giving full-time benefits to their part-time workers now. So, it’s pretty clear which direction they’d like to go.

Therefore, my proposed initiative clarifies the session would be 90 consecutive calendar days. Because we have to say that now?

Legislators whine they’re not getting paid enough. By shortening the session we’d be giving them a sizable raise, the same amount of pay for a fourth less work. I’m guessing you would take that deal in a heartbeat.

Of course, there’s a political reason they wait to the last week of session to drop important deals like property tax reform, “fees” on oil and gas, and TABOR refunds. It’s so there’s not enough time to have the scrutiny of the public on these big issues.

How do constituents even digest a proposed bill when dropped with three days left to pass it and no testimony allowed?

So, let’s shorten the session to 90 days. If they still keep treating their constituents like the procrastinating high schooler treats his English teacher, let’s just shorten it to three days.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.

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