Our Colorado legislative process is just as involved as 3-D chess

With a very busy week behind me, I’m pleased to say that six of the seven bills I presented in committee passed and now head to the floor for consideration by the full Senate. The bills originally began in the House and passed there, and if the Senate passes them as well, the final stop is the governor’s desk for potential signing into law.

In general, some bills are passed as originally introduced, and others go through an extreme makeover. Policy and politics play into what kinds of changes are made to a bill during the legislative process.

Sometimes, opposition to a bill doesn’t materialize until it has already passed through one of the chambers. Lobbyists or organized opposition may then pounce upon the bill once it is in the other chamber and denounce it as fatally flawed or at least requiring material changes.

The second chamber-attack approach is frustrating to legislators, especially if the opponents can muster sufficient support among the legislators in the second chamber to amend or defeat the bill.

When I’m the second-chamber sponsor, I remain open to opponents’ concerns about a bill, but I also like to keep close contact with the original bill sponsor’s intent in carrying the bill in the first place. If the political “sausage-making” process takes substantially from the original purpose of the bill, then the legislators are faced with deciding if the bill is worth continued pursuit this session or if it needs to be pulled back with further reflection and work – possibly to return in a future session.

I’ve often thought passing a bill is like playing chess on a 3-D board. Many times, what you see on the surface is not the whole story, much like when you first look at a hologram.

Of course, politics also plays into whether a bill survives the process, and which party is in the majority in the chamber the bill is in plays a large role in its success or defeat.

At least in Colorado, most new legislators are taught from the start the magic formula for bill passage is 33-18-1.

While that sounds like a lock combination, the number sequence actually means you need at least 33 votes in the House, 18 votes in the Senate, and the 1 refers to the governor who must approve of the bill to see it passed and signed into law.

I have a couple of bills in committee this week, again originating in the House. One clarifies the state-tax treatment of Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute personal property used on their respective reservations and how motor vehicles purchased by tribal members will be taxed, or not, by the state.

Colorado’s two Native American tribes with reservations in the state are in my Senate district, and I am working on this with the two state representatives, Reps. Mike McLachlan and Don Coram, who each have one of the reservations in their House districts.

The second bill I will present in committee addresses the responsibilities and cost allocation of firefighting when a wildfire originates on state-owned land.

While the northern half of Colorado has received significant snowfall this winter, our southern half has not. Unfortunately, we may experience another difficult wildfire season this year.

Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Call Sen. Roberts by phone at (303) 866-4884 or email ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us.

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