Interim Committees: Just the Facts, Ma’am

by Jery Payne

Duuuh-d’duh-duh. Duuuuh-d’duh-duh duuuuuuuuhhhh.

This is bill drafter Jery Payne. The blog you are about to read is true with regard to the rules, requirements, and procedures for interim committees. Only the name has been changed to protect…..we’re not sure what.

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January 2017: The General Assembly receives several reports of rampant cheating on eye exams occurring throughout the state. April 2017:  The executive committee approves a request for the Interim Committee on Cheating on Eye Exams.* As it turns out, this area is just too complicated to address without a whole lot of study. Who knew? Now that it’s the interim, it’s time to delve into this tough issue.

Before we go too far, let’s check the files. An interim study committee is created by action of the General Assembly to study a particular issue and, in most cases, recommend legislation to address the issue. Any legislation that an interim committee recommends must be approved by the Legislative Council before it can be introduced in the legislative session. The Legislative Council reviews these bills to ensure that they fit within the interim committee’s study description.

According to Joint Rule 24A, the Speaker of the House of Representatives appoints the committee chair and the President of the Senate appoints the vice chair when the interim study committee request originates in the house and vice versa when the request originates in the senate. Either way, the chair gets appointed. Next question: membership.

The committee needs legislative members who are willing to take the time to figure out the causes of and solutions to eye exam cheating. The interim committee request should have specified who appoints those members. Typically, committee members are appointed by the senate president, the house speaker, and the minority leaders of both chambers. So watch for those appointments.

Sometimes, an interim committee includes a member or two who aren’t legislators. For example, an optometrist may provide some expertise, and a psychologist may help the committee understand why people would cheat on an eye exam. But non-legislative members are not authorized to request a bill or vote on a bill.

With the chairmanship and membership all set, it’s time the committee holds some meetings.

The first thing most chairs do is call on legislative council staff to help schedule the committee meetings. The interim committee request should have said how many meetings to hold. If not, Joint Rule 24A (d) (2) limits interim committees to no more than six meetings.

An interim committee usually holds its first meeting in late July or early August. This may seem early, but it can be hard to find meeting dates that work for everyone. However, new policies recently adopted by the Executive Committee of the Legislative Council pursuant to House Bill 17-1113 may make attendance a little easier. On limited bases beginning August 1, those policies will allow members of certain interim committees to electronically participate by “phoning in” to a meeting via remote testimony technology. This year, the committee has until September 22 to request bill drafts. That means it has to hold all its meetings (except for the last two) by September 22. Assuming the committee meets six times, it will probably want to meet at least four times before September 22. If the committee holds its first meeting on August 1, that’s about one meeting every other week.

Now that the first meeting is set, Joint Rule 24A requires the committee to schedule:

  • The meeting at which the committee will vote to prepare draft bills—this meeting must be held at least 42 days before the committee takes its final vote on the bill drafts and no later than September 22, 2017.
  • The deadline for bill drafts to be finalized for the committee to vote on—this date must occur at least 21 days before the committee’s final vote meeting on the draft bills. This year, this deadline must be no later than October 13, 2017.
  • The meeting at which the committee will take its final vote on draft bills—this year, this meeting must be held no later than November 3, 2017.

Under Joint Rule 24A (d)(7), the committee chair must set the dates for these meetings as soon as possible after the first committee meeting.

In addition to helping schedule meetings, committee staff assists chairs in setting and posting the meeting agendas and may help identify individuals or groups to invite to present information to the committee.

A committee may want to travel for research or a meeting—word on the street is Colorado’s optometric association has a conference in Vail this summer. But the committee has to get permission before it hits the road. All committee travel expenses are subject to the Executive Committee’s approval.

Like the meetings of a standing committee of reference during the legislative session, interim committee meetings are open to the public, and people can find links to committee schedules and agendas and recordings of meetings online.

So, the committee’s met, done a couple of deep dives into optometry, and ferreted out the policy levers to prevent cheating on eye exams. Let’s draft some bills!

Having studied the issues, the committee has ideas for bills, such as randomly generated eye charts or intensive study or tutoring programs. At the committee’s request, the Office of Legislative Legal Services (OLLS) prepares the bill drafts. A committee member must have drafting information available at the meeting at which the member requests a bill or must submit drafting information to the OLLS drafter within three calendar days after the meeting. According to Joint Rule 24A (2.6), failure to timely submit drafting information may cause the bill request to be deemed withdrawn.

According to Joint Rule 24A (d) (2.7) (A), an interim committee may request bill drafts only at a single meeting. Normally, an interim committee may recommend to the Executive Committee up to five bills for introduction at the next legislative session, unless the interim study request sets a different number.

If a bill sponsor fails to finalize a bill draft by the date specified by the committee chair, the bill draft is deemed finalized and authorized for release to work up a fiscal note. And once a bill draft is finalized, a legislator may not modify the bill draft. At that point, a legislator can make changes to the bill draft only by amendment when the committee considers the draft.

Bill requests must be approved by a majority of the legislative committee members. Once approved, it is time to assign a prime sponsor. The committee must do this before the Legislative Council will consider the bill. Usually interim study committee bills are sponsored by a member of the committee, but legislators who are not committee members can, with the approval of the committee, sponsor interim committee bills.

Joint Rule 24 requires that Legislative Council meet to approve interim committee bills no later than November 15 in odd-numbered years and no later than October 15 in even-numbered years. The interim committee chair will present committee-approved bills to the Legislative Council at that meeting.

A committee bill that the Legislative Council approves for introduction does not count against a bill sponsor’s five-bill limit (see Joint Rule 24 (b) (1) (D)). So committee members can still carry five other bills while helping people get the right prescription eyeglasses.

Tune in to future episodes of LegiSource for an overview of the interim committees that were approved for 2017 and the bills they recommend.

*This is the name that was changed, in case you were wondering.


Correction made 7-24-17: This article has been corrected to reflect legislation passed during the 2017 session and rules recently adopted by the Executive Committee allowing legislators to remotely participate in interim committee meetings on a limited basis.