by Patti Dahlberg
Although the Colorado General Assembly is only in session from January to May each year, General Assembly members know that being a legislator requires year-round attention to legislative responsibilities. The first bill request deadline is still almost three months away (Thursday, December 1), but there are significant benefits to starting the bill drafting process as early as possible during the interim. (See Ask OLLS posting “The start of the legislative session is over 4 months away. Why should I bother to get my bill requests in now?”)
Submitting bill requests early allows legislators, legislative staff, and stakeholders more time to research, consider, develop, and draft bills. And there are other benefits for legislators who can invest a little more time on bill drafting earlier in the fall.
There’s no way around it – bill request deadlines require legislators and staff to complete the bulk of the bill drafting before the convening date of the next session. A legislator can wait until the deadline to submit his or her bill requests and spend the four to five weeks immediately before session – including the holidays – in heavy drafting mode or try to shift a portion of the pre-session drafting demands to earlier in the interim and:
- Reduce the time demands of drafting in December and January, allowing more time to prepare for session, meet with constituents and stakeholders, and tie up other personal matters before the session starts.
- Save big on time and enjoy bill request flexibility by having a solid draft of a bill completed by November. (There is no need to finalize a bill until closer to the desired introduction date.)
- Have the luxury of focusing on one or two bill requests at a time. Once a bill draft is close to being finished, the request can be set aside and the legislator and drafter can start work on another bill. This way, a legislator isn’t just trading a busy December for a busy September or October, but instead leveling the time demands of bill drafting over four to five months.
- Allow legislative staff more time to assist in developing and drafting the legislation. Staff is more readily available to attend meetings, consult on drafting language, and, if needed, provide in-depth research before December.
A lot can change between now and January and it may seem that drafting in September and October could be a waste of time. After all, a legislator may need to significantly change, update, or even withdraw a bill draft before introduction. But that’s okay, because it’s usually easier and faster to revise or rewrite an existing bill draft than to create it from scratch at the last minute. Even if a legislator finds that he or she must withdraw a bill request, he or she doesn’t lose the benefits of early drafting efforts.
- Early interim bill drafting allows a legislator and the bill’s stakeholders more time to make informed decisions about the bill’s content. Early interim drafting may require legislators to set some internal production deadlines to keep the bill draft moving along, especially when working with larger groups of stakeholders and constituents.
- With a bill draft in hand, even if it’s only an initial draft, a legislator is better equipped to know whether to introduce the bill, who to approach for second house sponsorship, and where the bill fits best in his or her bill introduction order.
- Often it is impossible to determine if a bill request is identical or substantially similar to another legislator’s bill request until draft language is available. By having drafts completed earlier in the interim, staff can more easily identify duplicate bills and the legislator can decide whether to proceed or replace the request sooner. (See Ask OLLS posting “What happens if I make the same bill request as another legislator?”)
- If a legislator has his or her bill drafted in the fall, he or she may authorize a fiscal analyst to provide an early estimate of how much the bill may cost. Knowing how expensive a bill may be before it’s introduced enables the legislator to consider changes before the bill is introduced and becomes public.
- The ability to review drafts of bills before the December 1 deadline is one of the best reasons to use more of the interim to develop and draft bills. If a legislator must decide whether to withdraw and replace one or more bill requests, then it’s best to make that decision before the first bill request deadline when the rules allow greater flexibility in making and replacing bills.