Colorado Democrats change House rules, making it harder to stall bill debates

· Feb. 5, 2024, 4:00 am
240110-legislature-opening-day-house-democrats-Duran240110-legislature-opening-day-house-democrats-DuranHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Democratic House Majority Leader Monica Duran on the opening day of the legislature, Jan. 10, 2024.

Colorado House Democrats are changing legislative rules to try to tamp down on a delay tactic the minority party uses to slow down the work of the chamber. 

They want to ensure that when a lawmaker requests a bill be read at length — a stalling tactic that can eat up hours, or even days, depending on the length of the legislation — that lawmaker has to stay to listen to every word of it.

Any lawmaker can have a bill read out loud when it is up for a vote on the chamber floor, and no other work can happen until that process is complete. Bill readings have become an especially potent tool at the end of the legislative session when the clock is ticking and any additional delay can jeopardize the majority party’s agenda. 

Attempts to literally speed up bill reading have been declared unconstitutional by the courts, so Democrats are now looking for other ways to defang the stalling tactic.

“This rule change modernizes this aspect of the legislative process while protecting members' constitutional rights,” said Democratic House Majority Leader Monica Duran. 

The new rule, House Resolution 1004, requires the lawmaker who requested the bill reading to remain in the chamber for the duration, not stepping away for more than five minutes without the explicit permission of the majority party member presiding over the floor. Leaving the chamber under other circumstances would end the bill reading. 

If the member then asked again for the bill to be read at length, instead of starting over, the reading would pick up where it left off.

“To be clear, it is completely within members' rights to read bills at length. No one disputes that,” said Duran. “However, this resolution seeks to restore some integrity to that process to ensure that the requests are made in good faith and that our institution functions as intended.”

The rule change also gives the House Majority Leader the power to temporarily suspend a bill reading and reschedule it for a specific date. 

Democrats are also increasing the number of days at the end of the session when the rules are suspended, a policy that allows them to move through bills more quickly, and make changes in short order, without the same degree of public notice.  

In the past, House rules allowed normal procedures to be suspended for the final three days before lawmakers adjourned, although in practice legislative leaders often suspended them earlier. Now that period will officially start 10 days in advance.

While the rules are suspended, work on bills can move more quickly. Lawmakers will sometimes conduct hearings with little notice and while standing on the House floor, instead of moving to a committee room. Lawmakers no longer get paper copies of all the amendments they vote on. And final votes on bills are streamlined.

House Republicans objected to the changes, especially the ten-day rule suspension. House Minority Leader Rose Pugliese said when the rules are suspended, her members lose much of their power to push for bill changes.

“We were silenced, we were not able to bring those ideas forward. We were not able to make amendments to bills that were important to our constituents, that are important to the people of Colorado.”

Pugliese said the rule change runs counter to pledges from top Democrats to work more equitably with Republicans. 

“Disagreeing better by suspending the rules and not letting us speak is not acceptable and we will not stand for it. And we place our objection on the record here today,” she told her colleagues Friday,

The Senate adopted a similar rule change two years ago.  

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