Recent Developments in Single Subject Requirement Case Law – Part I

By Jason Gelender

The single subject requirement of the Colorado constitution prohibits bills enacted by the General Assembly, constitutional amendments submitted for a vote of the people by the General Assembly, and initiated statutory changes and constitutional amendments from addressing more than one subject. While three distinct constitutional provisions separately prescribe the rule for bills, referred constitutional amendments, and initiatives, they all respectively state that a bill, referred constitutional amendment or initiative cannot “contain more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title, but if any subject shall be embraced in [the bill, referred constitutional amendment, or initiative] which shall not be expressed in the title, [it] shall be void only as to so much thereof as shall not be so expressed.” [1]

Most of the single subject case law from the last quarter century addresses proposed initiatives and is generated when the Colorado Supreme Court considers appeals of Title Board decisions.[2] But two recent single-subject challenges to bills enacted by the General Assembly have yielded interesting and informative, albeit not precedentially binding, Denver District Court decisions. One case involves a successful challenge to a bill that was not especially lengthy, complex, or broad in its scope; the other case involves a thus far unsuccessful challenge to a bill that was lengthy, complex, and broad in its scope.

This post, which is the first of a three-post series on recent developments in single subject case law, examines the first of those two decisions. The second post will examine the second of those decisions, and the third post in the series will examine the Colorado Supreme Court’s recent decision holding that a proposed initiative to repeal the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) contains a single subject.

The first case, Arapahoe Cnty. Sch. Dist. No. 1 et al. v. Colorado,[3] involved a single subject challenge to House Bill 18-1306, “Concerning ensuring education stability for students in out-of-home placement, and, in connection therewith, making an appropriation.” House Bill 18-1306 contained six substantive sections;[4] the plaintiffs alleged that section 7 of the bill violated the single subject requirement. Section 7, which was added to the bill in the Senate, eliminated a requirement that a school district that wishes to furnish transportation to a child who resides in another school district first obtain the approval of the school district in which the child resides. The plaintiffs contended that it violated the single subject requirement because, unlike the other substantive provisions of the bill, it did not apply only to “students in out-of-home placement.” The Denver District Court agreed with the Plaintiffs. In an order granting their motion for summary judgment, the court declared “[s]ection 7 of House Bill 18-1306 … to be void and of no effect” on the grounds that:

  • The “modern application” of the single subject requirement “requires an act and its title [(1) to] notify the public and legislators of pending bills so that all may participate; (2) to make the passage of each legislative proposal dependent on its own merits; and (3) to enable the governor to consider each single subject of legislation separately in determining whether to exercise veto power;”
  • The title of the bill “is not general,” but instead “is narrow in its focus, specifically ‘out of home’ placed students;”
  • The title therefore did not provide proper notice to the General Assembly or the public that section 7 of the bill modified “transportation for all students, in all school districts, without any restrictions or qualifications;”
  • Because section 7 of the bill was identical to language that had been included in a different bill, Senate Bill 18-228, which the General Assembly had postponed indefinitely, section 7 could not have passed on its own merits and its inclusion in the bill was “logrolling;” and
  • The addition of section 7 to the bill deprived the Governor of the opportunity to consider the remainder of the bill, all of which had a necessary and proper connection to the narrow single subject of ensuring educational stability for out-of-home-placed students, separately from section 7.[5]

The state initially planned to appeal the order granting plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, but the General Assembly rendered the appeal moot by enacting Senate Bill 19-039, which restored the district of residency approval requirement that the voided section 7 of House Bill 18-1306 had sought to eliminate.

What can we learn from the Denver District Court’s Order in Arapahoe Cnty. Sch. Dist. No. 1?

  • First, legislators, bill drafters, and anybody else who happens to get involved in the drafting of a bill should make sure to carefully consider and review the scope of the bill’s title before the bill is introduced. House Bill 18-1306 did not fail to meet the single subject requirement because it was a lengthy or complex “omnibus” bill that addressed a myriad of matters that could not reasonably fit under even a broad title. It failed because the title was drafted too narrowly to encompass all of its provisions, specifically a provision that was added by amendment, which a broader title could have encompassed.
  • Second, there is a real risk that a provision that actually relates to the single subject of a bill will nonetheless be found to create a second subject if the provision also relates to other matters. The issue with section 7 of House Bill 18-1306 wasn’t that it didn’t apply to students in out-of-home placement, but that it also applied to all other students. Again this risk can often be mitigated by drafting a bill with a broad general title.
  • Third, a narrow title remains a useful tool for limiting the scope of a bill and preventing the bill from being amended in a way that is contrary to the sponsors’ intentions. This tool is especially useful for a bill sponsor who knows, before a bill is introduced, exactly what the sponsor wants to accomplish and how it should be accomplished. But a narrow title does carry some risk if, after introduction, the policy goal of the bill or the means of achieving it change.

In the next posting, we’ll discuss the lessons to be learned from the district court’s decision in TABOR Foundation et al. v. Colorado Dept. of Health Care Policy and Financing et al., which addressed a single subject challenge to Senate Bill 17-267, “Concerning the sustainability of rural Colorado.”


[1] For general information about the single subject rule, see the Colorado LegiSource post titled “Single Subject Requirement Prevents a Multitude of Evils” (

[2] Before a proposed initiative to change the Colorado Revised Statutes or amend the Colorado constitution can be circulated for signatures and placed on the ballot, the Title Board, a three-member statutory body composed of designees of the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Office of Legislative Legal Services, must determine whether the measure satisfies the single subject requirement and, if it does, “designate and fix a proper fair title” for it. Sections 1-40-106 and 1-40-106.5, C.R.S. Appeals of Title Board decisions are made directly to the Colorado Supreme Court. Section 1-40-107 (2), C.R.S.

[3] Case No. 2018CV32901 (Denver Dist. Ct.).

[4] Sections 2 through 7 of the bill included substantive amendments to Colorado law, while section 1 contained a non-statutory legislative declaration, section 8 contained an appropriation, and section 9 was a standard “act subject to petition” clause.

[5] Omnibus order re: plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and defendant-intervenors’ motion for summary judgment (December 14, 2018).