A recent Colorado Politics article does an excellent job of summarizing the end of the Colorado state legislature’s session for this year. The idea of a limited number of days in a legislative session is an interesting one to a guy like me, a political scientist who mostly focused on national-level politics during my academic career. Given that the US congress is a full-time kind of creature, it seemed odd to me that so many states limit the time their legislators can sit in session.
Oh, and before you leap to your keyboards to tell me I am wrong about the United States congress, because they take lots of “breaks” and “recesses,” let me make it clear that I know that. But I also know that contrary to many people’s opinion, with rare exceptions, the elected members of the US House and Senate, on both sides of the aisle, are not on “break” or vacation during recesses. Rather, they are almost always back home in the district or state, working their butts off.
The trend has now been to call the recesses “home” or “district” work periods or something similar, because that’s what they are. When I was working for Sen. Michael Bennet and had access to his daily calendar, I was constantly amazed at how packed his schedule was. As is typical for such elected folks, Bennet might have had an hour of his day to himself if he was lucky. Your full-time congress definitely works full time.
But I digress…
When my first Air Force assignment took me to Wyoming, I was astonished to learn that that state’s legislature is only in session for 40 legislative days in odd years, and only 20 in even years. Growing up in Michigan, with a full-time legislature, this seemed amazing to me, and I wondered what they could actually get done in so few days. Turns out, only 11 states are like Michigan with ongoing sessions and the other 39 have some form of limited sessions
When the Air Force moved me to Colorado to teach at the Air Force Academy I learned of our similar, albeit much longer 120 calendar days in Denver. I’ve had a few opportunities to see the legislature in session, and my own involvement in politics has allowed me to meet and get to know a few of our state elected folks. And I remain firmly convinced that, while I disagree with the GOPers nearly all the time, most of our elected representatives, on both sides, are good and hardworking people. I admire Pete Lee, but I also admire Dennis Hisey for the work ethic they share and the commitment to Colorado they both demonstrate.
Our 120-day session is among the longer of the sessions in states with limits. And, as noted in the CP article, our legislators got quite a bit done. They earned their pitifully low salaries. With Democrats in the majority (thank goodness), it makes sense that that party’s legislative agenda saw the most success. Contrary to how they are often painted by their opponents, the Dems in the state legislature actually lowered taxes and fees in a number of areas that directly impact Coloradans. For example, we will see lower fees on vehicle registrations, gas purchases and professional licenses. These are all good things that will directly help lots of people. The session also showed strong support for education, as well as for law enforcement.
The Republicans, of course, as the minority party, were not able to pass much in terms of their core (Trumpian?) goals, but they did have success in several bipartisan ways. Of the 44 items the GOP staked out in January, only five made it to the Gov. Jared Polis’s desk. Heck, they didn’t even introduce two of their own bills. But the GOPers did have some ideas that were truly bipartisan and made it through, including two that are of particular interest to me. First, they got limits removed on how much retired teachers could substitute teach without risk to their pensions, and they got a bill through to promote geothermal energy, a very important item for us in the Centennial state.
And of especial interest to me, the Governor has already signed one GOP-led bill, Senate Bill 116, which allows professionals licensed in other states to work in Colorado. That may not seem especially significant, but as a military guy, I promise that it is a big deal. Quite often the spouses of military members have professional certifications and licenses issued by a particular state. When the military moves those families every few years, the spouses often find themselves unable to work, because the new home state doesn’t recognize the license issued by the previous state.
In my own case, my late first wife was a physical therapist, who got licensed in Wyoming and then had to jump through entirely new regulatory hoops to get re-licensed in Colorado. The same type of situation impacted my oldest daughter, an elementary school teacher married to a Marine. You often see this with military spouses who are nurses, teachers and other professionals. So, this bill is a good idea. Thanks, GOP.
A good session of a state legislature will leave most people somewhat happy, but still frustrated that more wasn’t done. And that’s not a bad thing. Our legislators worked very hard for the 120 days of the session, and most of them will keep working hard in the “off season.”
It seems to me that our elected officials from both sides of the aisle can take some credit in a session well done.
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.