Less than 30 days left! This past week was budget week in the House. On Monday, as expected, the House Appropriations Committee stripped off all the Senate amendments to the Long Bill and referred it to second reading. Leading up to second reading which occurred on Tuesday, there was a lot of speculation about what would happen when the Long Bill reached the floor. As I have mentioned previously, House Republicans have been using all the tools in their toolbox to slow down Democrats’ priority legislation. This has included asking for bills to be read at length. The Colorado constitution requires each bill to be read at length on both second and third reading unless waived with the unanimous consent of all members present. As a result, any member can cause a bill to be read at length by withholding their consent. When necessary both the House and the Senate use a computer to read bills at length. Well, as you can imagine the Long Bill is quite long. In fact, this year’s Long Bill is almost 700 pages long. Estimates on how long it would take for the computer to read it started at about 14 hours. Therefore, any legislator could grind all work in the House to a halt by requesting the Long Bill to be read at length.
Getting back to Tuesday, throughout the day Democrats and Republicans attempted to find a compromise that would allow the House to pass the Long Bill in time to take a much-needed three-day weekend for Good Friday and Easter. (At that time, the House had had only one day off in the prior three weeks. The Senate had previously announced it would not be working on Good Friday.) By mid-afternoon they reached a deal. The deal included Republicans getting seven of their priority amendments to the Long Bill in exchange for not asking for the Long Bill to be read at length on either second or third reading.
After the compromise, second reading went eerily smoothly given how recent floor debates have gone in the House. The House adopted about two dozen of the 73 amendments drafted, including the seven Republican priority amendments. Together these two dozen amendments added about $105 million in general fund spending to next year’s budget. Fourteen of the amendments adopted in the House were the same as those adopted in the Senate. None of the amendments impacted any of the State Patrol decision items. On Thursday, the House passed the Long Bill on third reading and took a much-needed three-day weekend.
This coming week the JBC will meet as the conference committee on the Long Bill. They will determine which, if any, of the 17 amendments and almost $85 million of additional general fund spending adopted by the Senate and the two dozen and more than $105 million of additional general fund spending adopted by the House will be included in the final Long Bill. The House and then the Senate will have to adopt the conference committee report and repass the final Long Bill before it is sent to the Governor.
So far, there have been 559 bills introduced – 288 in the House and 271 in the Senate. Only 28 days until the General Assembly is required to adjourn sine die.