Can’t You Fix That in the Revisor’s Bill?

by Jennifer Gilroy, Revisor of Statutes

It seems that most people who are involved in the legislative process in any way whatsoever have heard about the revisor’s bill — a bill viewed as a legislative means of “fixing” problems in the statutes or in legislation. But very few people really seem to have a clear understanding of what the annual revisor’s bill can and, more importantly, cannot include. To some, it seems to be a mystical piece of legislation over which a solitary individual (the Revisor of Statutes) randomly (or so it seems) grants (or not) inclusion of a provision they need “fixed”. To others it’s simply a boring, technical bill that shows up on the calendar late in the legislative session and is only important to legislative drafters. Well, it’s really both of these things and neither of these things…at the same time. The following are a few facts about the often misunderstood revisor’s bill.

1. The revisor’s bill is statutorily authorized. The actual source and authority for the revisor’s bill is statutory. Section 2-5-104, Colorado Revised Statutes, permits the Revisor of Statutes, under the supervision and direction of the Committee on Legal Services, to prepare a bill each year amending or repealing “obsolete, inoperative, imperfect, obscure, or [here’s my personal favorite] doubtful laws as…necessary to improve the clarity and certainty of the statutes.” That sounds like fairly broad authority. In fact, it would seem that a person could make a valid argument to include almost anything in the revisor’s bill based on these nebulous and admittedly subjective criteria — and they do!

However, the Office of Legislative Legal Services is very circumspect in its approach to the revisor’s bill. The Revisor of Statutes is decidedly cautious when exercising her statutorily delegated discretion regarding the contents of the revisor’s bill. She is careful to avoid usurping what is properly the legislature’s prerogative and scope of authority. In an effort to attain clarity and certainty of the statutes while respecting the legislature’s purview, the Revisor carefully scrutinizes every revisor’s bill submission, whether from legislative staff or someone outside the legislative arena.

2. The revisor’s bill is an annual legislative committee bill. The Committee on Legal Services recommends and sponsors the revisor’s bill each year as legislation intended to make non-substantive, corrective changes to various statutes. However, unlike other bills, this bill is generated by legislative staff. As the result of their meticulous annual review of the Colorado Revised Statutes, legislative editors with the Office of Legislative Legal Services identify the great majority of the provisions included in the revisor’s bill each year. The Revisor also receives submissions from legislators, constituents, agency personnel, practitioners, and others who have also found errors or mistakes warranting correction through the bill.

3. The Revisor’s criteria for inclusion in the revisor’s bill. But not every submission makes it into the revisor’s bill. To achieve an appropriate balance between the statutory purposes of the revisor’s bill and the legislature’s authority, the Revisor of Statutes endeavors to ensure that the changes made by the revisor’s bill are non-substantive and consistent with the legislative intent evidenced in prior enactments of the General Assembly. To achieve this balance and to ensure that the provisions in the revisor’s bill are purely non-substantive, the Revisor of Statutes uses three criteria to serve as guides. A provision may be included in the revisor’s bill if:

  1. The statutory provision is (or will be, when codified) broken — in other words, there is a mistake or an error;
  2. The mistake or error is apparent on its face or is traceable through the legislative process (such as an amendment that was improperly enrolled); and
  3. The “fix” would not be controversial.

For purposes of transparency and to ensure the non-substantive character of every entry in the bill, the revisor’s bill is the only bill that is introduced and passed with an attached appendix that explains the reason for each change made in the bill.

4. The revisor’s bill is introduced late in the session. While the revisor’s bill is introduced late in the legislative session so that it can be used to make corrections in bills from that very session if necessary, the drafting of the bill is generally finalized by March and the bill is prepared for introduction in early April. If an individual would like to request that something be added to the revisor’s bill, he or she is encouraged to submit the request to the Revisor of Statutes no later than the end of February, earlier if possible. Once the bill is introduced, an individual may contact the prime sponsors of the bill to amend it in committee or on second reading to include additional provisions or to remove a provision the individual believes should not be included. Typically, the bill sponsors employ the same criteria for post-introduction additions to the bill as the Revisor did in drafting the bill to preserve the bill’s non-substantive and non-controversial character.

If you would like additional information about the revisor’s bill, please contact Jennifer Gilroy at the Office of Legislative Legal Services.