First time member of the General Assembly? Hold On To Your Hats!

by Patti Dahlberg

First, let me just say “Congratulations and welcome aboard!”  You probably thought you’d have at least two months between your election and easing into being a General Assembly member. After all, the 2013 General Assembly doesn’t convene until Wednesday, January 9, 2013. But, hold on to your hats — the Legislative Rules concerning bill deadlines require that the bulk of bill drafting be accomplished before the first day of the legislative session.

The Colorado House of Representatives Chamber/Photo by: Holly Mandis

The first deadline that you, as a new member of the General Assembly, will need to meet is Monday, December 17, 2012. This is the date by which you must submit your first three bill requests to the Office of Legislative Legal Services (OLLS). The OLLS is the General Assembly’s non-partisan legislative staff agency that will help you keep track of your bill requests and draft and amend your bills. In addition, the Office provides bill history information and other legal and advisory services upon request to all members of the General Assembly.

The first bill request deadline is still a month away so you may feel you have plenty of time, but be forewarned that, if you wait until the deadline day to submit your first three bill requests, you will also almost immediately need to provide sufficient drafting information so that the drafters can draft all three bills and you can decide which of these requests will be introduced on the first day of session. Although the Legislative Rules allow you, as a newly elected member of the General Assembly, more time to request your first three bills than a returning legislator has, these rules do not allow you more time to have your bill requests drafted.

The Colorado Senate Chamber/Photo by: Holly Mandis

If possible, you should try to submit at least one bill request ASAP. The bill can touch on any subject matter. That’s up to you. Even if you’re uncertain whether your idea is a “workable” idea, go ahead and submit it. During the bill drafting process, potential issues or problems are likely to be exposed making it easier for  you to determine whether your idea is “workable”. If it becomes apparent that the idea isn’t working to your satisfaction, you can withdraw the request and replace it with a new request, as long as you make that decision on or before the December 17 bill request deadline.

By submitting your initial request ASAP, you can start your experience with the bill drafting process without being overwhelmed, and you’ll see how much your legislative staff can help you during this process.

What newly elected legislators need to know about requesting bills:
[see Joint Rule 24(b)(1)(A)]:

✓    Legislators are allowed five bill requests each session. These five bill requests are in addition to any appropriation, committee-approved, or sunset bill requests that a legislator may choose to carry.*
✓    In order to keep all five bill requests, legislators must submit at least three of them to the OLLS by the first request deadline in December. Legislators must submit the remaining two requests by the second request deadline in January.
✓    This year, the December 15 deadline stated in the rules falls on a weekend, so the first bill request deadline for legislators who are new to the General Assembly is Monday, December 17, 2012. The second bill request deadline is Tuesday, January 15, 2013.
✓    If a legislator submits only one request on or before the December deadline, he or she forfeits the other two requests that were due at that time.*
✓    Legislators are encouraged to submit more than three requests by the December deadline. By doing so, legislators can withdraw and replace at least one of their requests after the December deadline without losing a request. For example, if a legislator has submitted only the three-request minimum by the December deadline and later withdraws one of those requests, he or she will forfeit that bill request because the rules only allow for two of the five bill requests to be submitted after the December deadline. On the other hand, if a legislator has submitted four bill requests by the December deadline and later withdraws one of those requests, he or she will be left with three bill requests that meet the early request deadline plus the two requests that can be made after the early bill request deadline — for a total of five bill requests.

*  A legislator can ask for permission from the Committee on Delayed Bills to submit additional bill requests or to waive a request deadline.