West to the 32nd Meridian: Colorado Legislation Pt. 1


We whose names are underwritten … having undertaken … a voyage to plant ye first colonie …, doe … covenant & combine our selves togeather into a civill body politick, … and by vertue hereof to enacte … such just & equall lawes … for ye generall good of ye colonie, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

Mayflower Compact of 1620, in William Bradford, Of Plimouth Plantation 110 (1646).


Our legislative legacy crossed the Atlantic and planted itself firmly on North American soil with the arrival of the pilgrims in Plymouth Colony and Jamestown. Indeed, legislation has always played an important role in our inherited legal history, and it continues to play a central role in our federal and state governments today. This installment of West to the 32nd Meridian will examine Colorado legislation in two parts. Part 1 will touch on the history of the Colorado legislature and consider the basic Colorado legislative process. Part 2 will explore the history and creation of the products of the legislative process—namely session laws, codifications, annotations—and the finer points of current and historical Colorado legislative research. Both parts will include references to suggested resources for further, more in-depth study.

Bicameral Legislature

The term bicameral literally means two rooms or chambers. Up until the time of the American Revolution, colonial legislatures generally resembled the British parliament in form and procedure. However, in 1776 Virginia adopted a bicameral legislature in its new constitution and other states soon followed. Today, all states except Nebraska have bicameral legislatures.

Colorado’s first official legislature began in 1861 when the U.S. Congress passed an act creating the Territory of Colorado (Act of Feb. 28, 1861, ch. 59, 12 Stat. 172). Section 4 of the Territory’s Organic Act created a legislative assembly compromised of a Council and a House of Representatives. Under the Act, the Council consisted of 9 members with the ability to grow to 13, and the House consisted of 13 members with the ability to grow to 26. Council members were elected to two-year terms and House members served for one year.

The Territorial legislature met for 11 sessions before Colorado became the 38th state in the Union on August 1, 1876. Article V, Sec. 1 of the Colorado Constitution declared that “[t]he legislative power shall be vested in the general assembly, which shall consist of a senate and a house of representatives, both to be elected by the people.” Senators were elected for terms of four years and representatives for terms of two years (Colo. Const. art. V, sec. 3 (1876)). As compensation, each member of those early General Assemblies received $4.00 per day of service, and $.15 per mile for travel “going to and from the seat of government by the most usually traveled route” (An Act to Provide for the Compensation of the Members of the General Assembly, Approved, March 7, 1877).

Legislative Process

In addition to being the name of Colorado’s legislative body, the term General Assembly also describes a specific time period when the legislature meets. After statehood and continuing until 1951, the General Assembly met every other year on odd years beginning with the 2nd General Assembly in 1879. Since 1951, each two-year General Assembly is composed of a first regular session (year 1) and a second regular session (year 2). Special sessions, also called extraordinary sessions, may be convened upon the written request of two-thirds of the members of each house or by executive order of the Governor. To determine the current General Assembly, you need only subtract 1876 from the current year and divide by 2. In 2014, the second regular session of the 69th General Assembly was in session.

During every legislative session the General Assembly introduces and considers proposals to create or change Colorado law. These written documents are called bills. Most bills create new law, amend existing law, or repeal existing law. Appropriation bills (for example, the general or “long” appropriations bill) are exceptions that fund state departments, agencies, and institutions.

All bills must have a sponsor in both the House and the Senate, and there are restrictions on the number of bills each legislator may introduce. Excluding appropriation bills and subject to other exceptions, each legislator may introduce no more than 5 bills in any session. The names of the prime sponsor and co-sponsors are included on the first page of the bill. When a bill is introduced in the house of origination, it is given a number that identifies the bill for the remainder of the legislative session. Numbered in the order they are introduced, Senate bills are numbered from 1 and House bills are numbered from 1001. For example, House Bill 14-1001 designated the first bill introduced in the House in 2014.

Although the subjects of bills vary greatly, their form is generally the same. The usual arrangement is: bill title, bill summary, enacting clause, substantive provisions, and an appropriation (if required), followed by other standard clauses (e.g., severability clause, safety clause, and effective date). Once introduced, a bill must be passed by both the House and the Senate before it can be sent to the Governor. The official steps a bill follows are: introduction, consideration by at least one committee of reference, passage on second reading, and final passage in the first house (third reading), followed by introduction, consideration by at least one committee of reference, passage on second reading, and final passage in the second house (third reading).

Immediately following introduction (first reading by title), all bills are sent to committee, often called a committee of reference, by either the Speaker of the House or the President of the Senate. The committee of reference will analyze the details of the bill at committee meetings that are open to the public. In committee, a bill may be amended, recommended for passage, referred to another committee, postponed indefinitely (that is, killed), or laid over for consideration in a later session.

Bills referred out of committee are debated by the entire body of the House or Senate, called the Committee of the Whole, on second reading. At this time the entire house considers the bill as a committee (all members of the House and Senate are members of their respective Committee of the Whole). This process allows all members to provide input on the bill, analyze the action taken by the committee of reference, and consider any amendments. The Committee of the Whole may amend the bill; refer it back to committee; defeat the bill; lay it over to another day; or adopt the bill, passing it on for the third reading. House and Senate debates are recorded (audio) and voice votes on amendments are counted in both the committee of reference and the Committee of the Whole. Final action on the bill is taken on third reading before the entire house. This is the time that a recorded vote (showing how each member voted) is taken. If the bill passes third reading, it is sent to the other house if it is in the house that introduced the bill, or it is sent to the Governor if it is in the second house to consider the measure.

As a bill progresses through the legislative process, it is referred to by different names. The different versions of a bill are:

Printed bill—the bill as introduced before any amendments are added.
Engrossed bill—the bill as passed on second reading in the house of introduction, including any amendments adopted by that house on second reading.
Reengrossed bill—the bill as passed on third reading in the house of introduction, including all amendments adopted by that house. The reengrossed bill is the version sent to the second house for introduction and consideration.
Revised bill—the bill as passed on second reading in the second house, including any amendments made to the bill on second reading by the second house.
Re-revised bill—the bill as passed on third reading in the second house. The re-revised bill is then sent back to the house of origin for enrollment and transmittal to the Governor.
Enrolled bill (aka Act)—after passage in both houses, the bill is printed in the form in which it will appear in the session laws. This enrolled bill is the version signed by the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, the Secretary of the Senate, the Chief Clerk of the House, and the Governor.

On the Governor’s Desk

Once a bill is enrolled, it is sent to the Governor for signature. The Governor may sign the bill enacting it into law; not sign the bill (allowing it to become law without signature after 10 days); or veto the bill. Individual Acts passed by the House and Senate, and approved by gubernatorial signature, or allowed to become law by gubernatorial inaction, are arranged chronologically into chapters and prepared for publication into a compilation called “Session Laws.” Thereafter, these bills are codified—edited, revised, annotated, and indexed by subject—into our “Colorado Revised Statutes.”

Lawyers must understand both the legislative enactment process and the legal publication cycle to place applicable law into its proper context. This knowledge is also the basis for all legislative history (not covered here) and effective and accurate statutory legal research.


By Dan Cordova and Chris Hudson. Dan Cordova is the Colorado Supreme Court Librarian. Chris Hudson is the Deputy Colorado Supreme Court Librarian for Education and Outreach. They can be reached at (720) 625-5100 or library@judicial.state.co.us.


Sources of Information:
Colorado General Assembly, leg.state.co.us/clics/clics2014A/cslFrontPages.nsf/HomeSplash?OpenForm
Colorado Legislative Drafting Manual, tornado.state.co.us/gov_dir/leg_dir/olls/legislative_drafting_manual.htm
Colorado Office of Legislative Legal Services (OLLS), tornado.state.co.us/gov_dir/leg_dir/olls/
Researching Legislative History in Colorado, state.co.us/gov_dir/leg_dir/olls/PDF/LEGISLATIVE%20HISTORY.pdf
Robert S. Lorch, Colorado’s Government: Structure, Politics, Administration, and Policy, (5th ed., University Press of Colorado, 1991).
The Legislative Process, colorado.gov/cs/Satellite?blobcol=urldata&blobheader=application/pdf&blobkey=id&blobtable=MungoBlobs&blobwhere=1231572728402&ssbinary=true