The 101: Colorado’s General Assembly

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At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the Colorado General Assembly will convene. Here’s the 101 on your state legislature.

Why care? Every year, lawmakers approve laws that impact a most areas of Colorado life. They enact regulations on marijuana sales and use, tougher penalties for crimes such as drunken driving, higher fees on government services, a state budget funding education, roads, transportation, health care, and plenty more. Coloradans pay income and sales taxes and other fees and taxes that fuel a state budget estimated to top $30 billion next year. Arguably, the General Assembly has greater impact on the day-to-day lives of Coloradans than Congress.

The basics: Every year, the state House and Senate meet for 120 days beginning on the second Wednesday of January. This year’s session ends May 9.

Every Colorado lawmaker is paid $30,000 a year, plus daily expenses that vary based on where a legislator lives. Most hold another job.

Colorado is one of 46 states with a legislature that meets every year. Those that don’t meet annually: Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas.

The House: 65 members, currently controlled by 37 Democrats to 28 Republicans.

The Senate: 35 members, currently controlled by 18 Republicans to 16 Democrats and one recently unaffiliated senator.

The process, in a nutshell:

  • Each lawmaker may introduce up to five bills (not including committee-sponsored measures such as budget bills). Virtually every one of these bills (with a few exceptions) must be introduced by the end of January.
  • Every bill is referred to a committee and gets a hearing under the 1988 GAVEL amendment approved by Colorado voters. Some bills are heard by more than one committee; many die in committee.
  •  Bills approved by committees are heard on the House or Senate floor on second reading, where most debate and amendments take place. If approved by a voice vote (with some exceptions), the measure is heard again on third reading where a formal roll call vote is taken. Approved bills move to the opposite chamber for the same procedure.
  • Bills amended by the opposite chamber return to the originating body for approval or rejection of amendments or appointment of a conference committee to work out differences.
  • Once a bill is approved in the same format by both chambers, it goes to the governor for signature or a veto. The governor may also allow a measure to become law without his or her signature.

The politics: 2018 is an election year, so all 65 House seats and 17 of the 35 Senate seats are up in November. That often means various lawmakers are running for higher office, fighting to keep their seats or aiming for leadership jobs after the next election.

How can Coloradans get involved?

  • Figure out who your state senator and representative are by typing your address into the search field of this map. Most lawmakers hold public meetings and send period emails to constituents. Email asking to be put on their mailing lists.
  • Once bills are introduced, you may search by subject, lawmaker or simply scroll through them on this site.
  • If you’re interested in particular legislation, you may go to the Capitol and sign up to testify on a bill. Each bill includes information on committee hearing time and date, though that’s often subject to change.
  • You may watch or listen to committee hearings or House and Senate floor sessions online.

Make a visit: Next time you’re in Denver – or make a special trip – check the House or Senate calendars and visit the Capitol. You’ll have to go through a security screening. The Capitol is a beautiful building, and there are are guided tours available.

Consider sitting in the House or Senate gallery to watch a morning floor session (mostly pomp and circumstance in early weeks) or attending a committee meeting. And here’s a tip: Watching the Colorado General Assembly is a great time to get some knitting done!

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