The Publications Bill: A Little Bill with a Big Job

by Nate Carr

Each year a small, one-page bill works its way through the legislative process. It’s typically at the front of the legislative bill line, so to speak, and frequently has the honor of gracing the Governor’s desk before many of the other bills have even been heard in the first committee. This bill doesn’t trigger front-page headlines; it rarely, if ever, even makes the news. Why then, does this seemingly insignificant little bill get pushed through the legislative process so quickly?

Well, this little bill has a big job – enacting the compilation of the state’s laws known as the Colorado Revised Statutes (C.R.S.). Each year the Committee on Legal Services, the legislative committee responsible for overseeing the publication and printing of the Colorado Revised Statutes, sponsors this bill. It is formally titled as a bill Concerning the enactment of Colorado Revised Statutes [Year] as the positive and statutory law of the state of Colorado; however, it is commonly referred to as the “publications bill.” The publications bill enacts the official printed version of the C.R.S. as the positive and statutory law of the State of Colorado. But why is it necessary to enact the C.R.S. annually?

2012 Colorado Revised Statutes/Photo by Ashley Zimmerman
2012 Colorado Revised Statutes/Photo by Ashley Zimmerman

The answer to that question requires some background information. Once the General Assembly adopts a bill, the enrolling room and the Office of Legislative Legal Services (OLLS) prepare the bill in Act form for presentation to the Governor. Bills that the Governor signs, or that he does not veto, become law and are known as Acts. In the months following the adjournment of each legislative session, the OLLS staff, under the direction of the Revisor of Statutes, incorporates the newly enacted laws into the body of law published in the preceding year’s C.R.S. In addition, staff makes revision changes to correct nonsubstantive grammatical or punctuation errors, harmonizes conflicting bills, and adds voter-approved statutory changes. The Revisor also ensures that the C.R.S. are properly constructed, annotated, and indexed. The authority and guidelines that the Revisor follows to prepare the C.R.S. are located in articles 4 and 5 of title 2 of the Colorado Revised Statutes. Once the publications process is complete, the OLLS sends the data with the new, updated body of law to the state’s official contract printer who prints and distributes the updated sets of Colorado Revised Statutes.

At the legislative session following the printing of the C.R.S., the General Assembly and the Governor move quickly to pass the publications bill. The bill does not change substantive law and may not be used as a vehicle to repeal or otherwise amend legislation enacted by a prior General Assembly or to amend a bill being considered during the same legislative session. Passage of the publications bill usually occurs within a few weeks after the start of the legislative session. Once enacted, the updated C.R.S., as printed by the state’s official contract printer, is deemed to have been properly collated, edited, revised, and constructed. The text of the newly updated C.R.S. becomes legal, irrefutable evidence of the state’s statutory law in a court of law. Without passage of the publications bill, provisions of the published C.R.S. are merely prima facie evidence of the statutory law that may be contradicted or rebutted by other evidence.

Back to the question, why is it necessary to enact the C.R.S. annually? Enactment of the publications bill ensures that there is one, comprehensive body of primary statutory law for the state of Colorado on which courts and the public may rely. Without passage of the publications bill, all other bills would need to amend not only the last enacted version of the C.R.S., but also the Session Laws for each subsequent year in which a bill amends the same section of law. Eventually, it would become virtually impossible to know or understand what the statutory law of the state actually is. The publications bill may be a little bill, but it achieves a giant result!