It seems that once a year, we hear about a bill that is well over 2,000 pages long. Assuming you are like the majority of people, you wonder how our lawmakers can read 2,000 pages of a bill while reading and voting on everything else that happens during the legislative session. Last week we saw such a bill come to the state Senate for a vote. Senate Republicans asked for a full reading of the law — a practice that is required but apparently uncommon — which was then characterized as “gamesmanship” and “Trumpian” by Representative Leslie Herod, the vice chair of the Committee on Legal Services.
Three hours into a reading that was projected to take sixty when done by living, breathing human beings, Democrat senators decided that they would comply with the request for a full reading, but would have computers do the reading at a pace that was unintelligible to anyone. Even with the assistance of computers, it took several more hours to finish a full reading of the bill. This is not surprising, given that a single sentence in the bill — regulating the sale of real estate — contains over 400 words.
To her credit, Representative Herod did also say that “Coloradans deserve better,” and we do deserve better. We deserve better than to have laws that are 2,000 pages long. We deserve to know that our elected representatives are reading and understanding the laws that they are signing. For all anyone knows, the regulations on barbers and cosmetologists — buried in the 2,000 pages of text — may have mandated a minimum number of mullets and a maximum amount of dye that can be used on hair in a given day.
Joking aside, the bills that are voted on at the Capitol do have serious implications for all of us. If our legislators aren’t reading what they are signing, we are left completely unprotected from whoever writes these laws. Thankfully, a Denver District Court judge issued a restraining order on Democratic Senator Leroy Garcia, which forbids the Senate leadership from using the same tactic if a full reading of a bill is requested. It remains to be seen what will happen with the lawsuit that Senate Republicans have against Senator Garcia, though we do know that until March 19, our lawmakers have to physically read bills.
The Libertarian Party of Colorado firmly believes that lawmakers should be required to physically read the laws that they sign — without exception — as is outlined by the State Constitution. Senator Garcia does not agree with this stance and instead claims that “Senate Republicans have decided to employ unprecedented partisan tactics, abuse taxpayer dollars, and waste time that could be spent working for the people of Colorado.” If the senator truly believes that reading bills is a “waste of time,” especially those which regulate professions and occupations, perhaps he himself should find a different occupation.
To be fair, the Colorado Constitution does not require that elected officials be present when bills are read. This is a problem in and of itself as well, and needs to be addressed as soon as possible. We, as citizens, should demand more of our legislators. We should demand that they know what they are voting on and signing into law. We need to be able to hold our legislators accountable. If they are incapable or unwilling to truly represent us, then they need to be removed from office.
Michael Lopez is a freelance writer, entrepreneur and libertarian who is dedicated to protecting the union that our founders established for us. You can read more of his thoughts at deadletters.org.
Westword occasionally publishes essays and op-eds on Colorado issues. If you have one that you think would work well here, send it to email@example.com.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.