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Colorado’s 2024 legislative session begins today. Here’s your guide to get involved.

Colorado State Capitol building, steps, and sign.
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Wispy clouds over the State Capitol as the legislative session opens in the House of Representatives in the Senate chambers Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, in Denver.

The Colorado Sun originally published this story at 3:10 AM on January 10, 2024.

Colorado lawmakers are returning to the state Capitol to debate bills with the potential to affect every Coloradan.

Housing, school funding, transportation, public safety, and tax policy are among the range of issues facing the Colorado General Assembly, which begins its 2024 lawmaking term Wednesday. The House and Senate will remain in session through May 8.

Here’s a brief guide to how the legislature works and what you can do to get involved and stay up to date with the process:

Democrats are in power

There are 100 lawmakers in the General Assembly — 65 representatives in the House and 35 senators in the Senate.

Democrats hold majorities in both chambers: a 46-19 supermajority in the House and a 23-12 advantage in the Senate. Gov. Jared Polis, who is the ultimate arbiter of bills — unless there is a veto override vote, which is extremely rare — is also a Democrat.

The political dynamics mean Republicans can’t get any legislation passed without Democratic support. Additionally, Democrats control which committees bills are assigned to and when measures are heard on the chamber’s floor and have the power to limit debate.

The legislature typically works Monday through Friday, taking holidays and weekends off. But later in the session, there are often Saturday and Sunday workdays as the General Assembly rushes to finish its agenda before its annual 120-day term runs out.

There will be a lot of bills

Each senator and representative is supposed to be limited to introducing five bills each, but there are often exceptions.

In the past 10 years, for instance, the number of measures introduced in the legislature in a given year has ranged from 598 in 2019 to 721 in 2018, indicating that there is plenty of wiggle room with the limit.

About 66% of the bills introduced in the past 10 years were signed into law. Congress, by comparison, passes fewer than 10% of introduced measures each year.

Before a bill introduced in the Colorado legislature becomes a law, it goes through a lengthy and often complex process. There are several opportunities for the public to follow along, offer their input, and try to influence their lawmakers’ vote.

How bills move through the legislature

A bill becomes public once its title is read on the House or Senate floor, at which point it’s also assigned to a committee.

The legislature lists bills as they’re introduced, along with information on where they are in the process and votes cast for or against them, on its website, leg.colorado.gov.

If you’re interested in a particular issue area, such as education or health care, you might want to follow specific committees and their work. Committees in the House and the Senate typically meet at set times and days of the week in specific committee rooms, with the agendas published in advance.

However, those agendas and schedules are subject to change. So if you’re particularly interested in a specific committee hearing, check the schedule at the beginning of each day — or even more frequently.

Unlike in Congress and many other state legislatures, every bill that is introduced is required to get at least one committee hearing where members of the public may offer input.

Once a bill passes committees

Bills sometimes must clear multiple committees before they advance to the House or Senate floor.

Once a measure reaches the full Senate or House, it must clear two votes to advance either to its second chamber or the governor’s desk.

The “second reading” of a bill is when the first vote is taken. It’s also where most debate occurs.

Any lawmaker may offer amendments and speak for or against the measure. Typically, a voice vote is held to determine whether a piece of legislation should advance.

If a bill clears second reading, it heads to third reading — the second and final vote. Third-reading votes must happen at least a day after the second-reading vote is taken.

Once the House or Senate approves a bill, it either moves to the opposite chamber, where the same process — starting with a committee hearing or hearings — takes place, or it heads to the governor’s desk to be signed or vetoed. The governor may also let bills become law without his signature.

The one exception is when amendments are made in the second chamber in which a bill is debated. If that happens, the measure must return to its chamber of origin for approval of the changes. The original chamber can also reject the changes or call for a conference committee to iron out differences.

How you can get involved

There are plenty of ways for people to get involved in the legislative process:

Participate in committee hearings. You may testify at committee hearings on specific bills either in person, in writing, or virtually, signing up in person or in advance. You should know that speaking time may be limited if a large number of people are signed up to testify, so prepare to make your point in 3 minutes or less. If you plan to testify in person, review the protocols for committee meetings in advance.

Email or call your lawmaker. Lawmakers welcome input from constituents, though not when it’s threatening or laced with profanity. Consider contacting all the lawmakers on a committee considering a specific bill you’re interested in because they often have the most significant impact on such measures.

Don’t know who your state representative or senator is? Look it up here by plugging in your address. You may also find contact info on this list.

You may have a lobbyist. Are you a member of AARP, the League of Women Voters, Americans for Prosperity or another civic group? Does your business belong to a state-level association? If so, you likely have someone lobbying on your behalf.

You can search a list of lobbying clients and lobbyists on the secretary of state’s website, with contact information and bills being lobbied listed.

The Sun also keeps track of lobbying spending. Check out our analysis from the 2023 legislative session.

You don’t need to leave home to get involved

Members of the public can always visit the Capitol and sit in committee rooms or the House and Senate gallery. If you visit, consider taking a free tour.

But if you want to stay at home, you can also watch House and Senate floor action online through Colorado Channel on YouTube. Here is the link.

Video of committee hearings is not broadcast or recorded, but you can listen live or to an archived recording after the fact. Here’s the link.

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