by Faith Marcovecchio
It’s Friday morning, and the Committee of the Whole is hearing the second reading of bills. As you glance at the next bill up, you realize you need an amendment. Quick—to the amendment clerk!
But what is the amendment clerk?
You’ll find this helpful person at the front of each chamber, at a small desk to the left of the dais. The amendment clerk is a nonpartisan staff member who can, in consultation with the drafter of the bill, draft quick, nonsubstantial amendments for members during second or third readings.
In Colorado, the amendment clerk is an employee of the Office of Legislative Legal Services and can be either an attorney or a legislative editor who has other drafting and editing responsibilities. In other states, the position is similarly filled by an attorney from the state legislature’s drafting office, but amendment clerking is that attorney’s primary responsibility during session, not something he or she does in addition to drafting bills. And then there are states where floor amendments are drafted exclusively by the bill’s drafter—there is no amendment clerk at all.
The Office of Legislative Legal Services took over staffing the amendment clerk desk in 1999. Previous to that, part-time House and Senate staff filled this role. However, it made sense for year-round staffers who were already drafting and editing legislation to also sit in this hot seat because of their understanding of the Colorado Revised Statutes and the General Assembly’s procedures, drafting style, and software.
The amendment clerk desk can be a hive of activity during debate of complex or controversial bills, with legislators and staff vying for the amendment clerk’s time to draft member amendments, contact bill drafters, prepare Committee of the Whole amendments, or contact an attorney to clarify rules. It may be necessary, at times, for the amendment clerk to prioritize requests from legislators. For example, during second reading, the amendment clerk must prepare second reading amendments before Committee of the Whole amendments.
With so many people tugging at the amendment clerk’s sleeve, there are several things legislators can do to get what they need from the amendment clerk in a timely fashion. If at all possible, members should contact the drafter of bill before the bill is on second reading to request and discuss the amendment. When making an amendment request on the floor during debate, members should provide as much time as possible for the drafter of the bill and the amendment clerk to prepare the amendment to ensure that the language and law are accurate. If there isn’t enough time, members may need to request a short recess while the amendment is being prepared. Another option to allow for the proper time to draft floor amendments, especially when multiple floor amendments are in play, is to ask the Majority Leader to lay the bill over until later in the day’s calendar or a later date.
Beyond drafting short amendments, amendment clerks can assist members in several other ways. Need to speak to your drafter about a more complex amendment to a bill? The amendment clerk can quickly connect you to the attorney in question. Need a copy of one your bills? The clerk can print one for you. Wondering about particular language in existing statute or legislative rule? The clerk has the full Colorado Revised Statutes and legislative rules on hand and can look up what you need, provided it’s not too extensive. And throughout the proceedings, the amendment clerk is communicating what is happening on the floor in e-mails to the Office of Legislative Legal Services, Legislative Council Staff, and the Joint Budget Committee to help staff members from those agencies assist legislators in the chambers.