by Sharon Eubanks
On January 7, 2015, the Senate and the House of Representatives of the 70th Colorado General Assembly convened amid much pomp and circumstance. The day was filled with a multitude of activities in each chamber – reading the election results for the appropriate chamber as certified by the Secretary of State, calling the roll of members, administering the oath of office, electing a presiding officer, and, of course, delivering speeches. The chambers were filled with Representatives and Senators, their families and friends, legislative staff, and members of the media. It was a headline-making day full of anticipation and excitement.
But both houses performed one activity on opening day that received little notice and is probably even less understood. This activity was adopting the legislative rules of the previous General Assembly – in this instance the 69th General Assembly that first convened in January 2013 – as the temporary legislative rules of the 70th General Assembly.
It is the long-standing custom and practice of both the Senate and the House to adopt a simple resolution on the first day of session that makes the rules of each chamber of the previous General Assembly the temporary rules of that chamber for the newly convened General Assembly. This year, they accomplished this by passing House Resolution 15-1001 and Senate Resolution 15-001. Also, by adopting a joint resolution, the Senate and the House make the joint rules of the Senate and the House of the previous General Assembly the temporary joint rules of the Senate and the House of the newly convened General Assembly. This year, they passed Senate Joint Resolution 15-001.
While you now know how the General Assembly adopts temporary legislative rules on opening day, you are probably still wondering – why did this legislative custom and practice develop? And when do the temporary rules become permanent?
As to why, the answer is simple. Procedural rules adopted by one legislature are not binding on a subsequent legislature. In fact, the legislative rules adopted by the previous General Assembly automatically expire when a new General Assembly convenes. Once the 70th General Assembly convened on opening day in accordance with constitutional procedures, (see Colo. Const. Art. V, Secs. 2 & 7), neither the Senate nor the House had any legislatively adopted rules to govern their proceedings – no rules on the order of business, the preparation of a calendar and a journal, bill introduction deadlines, motions, voting, or committees. On the first day of the first legislative session, both chambers need to adopt rules for their proceedings as authorized by Colo.Const. Art. V, Sec. 12, and the easiest and quickest way to do so is to adopt the legislative rules of the previous General Assembly as the temporary rules of the new General Assembly.
Sometimes a chamber will change the temporary rules it adopts by amending the rules in the same resolution used to adopt the temporary rules or in resolutions introduced later in the session. For example, it has long been the practice of the House to specify in the same resolution that adopts the temporary House rules that the temporary House rules may be amended by the affirmative vote of a majority of the members elected to the House until the House adopts permanent rules. This is a significant deviation from House Rule 47, which requires a 2/3rds vote of all House members to amend, suspend, or repeal any House rule.
Likewise, the Senate resolution that adopts the temporary Senate rules provides that the temporary rules may be amended by the affirmative vote of a majority of the members elected to the Senate. Otherwise, Senate Rule 34 (a) requires a 2/3rds vote of all members elected to the Senate to amend or repeal a rule unless a Senator gives three days’ notice, in which case a vote of only the majority of members elected is required.
So making the temporary legislative rules of a chamber permanent makes it more difficult to amend or repeal the rules of that chamber, which may help explain why the General Assembly rarely makes temporary legislative rules permanent. In fact, during the last fifty years, the General Assembly and its houses have almost always operated under temporary legislative rules for the entirety of each General Assembly. Which leaves us to ponder the true nature of a temporary legislative rule.