Roberts: Bringing the Capitol to a town near you
In the U.S. Congress, unfortunately, there are many times when bills are introduced by legislators and then never see the light of day; no committee hearing, no vote, nothing. Or, sometimes a bill will pass one chamber and then go over to the other chamber to expire with not a single moment of debate. Such is life in a divided Washington, I suppose.
Thankfully, at the Colorado legislature, it is not like that at all. Here in our state, there is a constitutional amendment that guarantees that every bill introduced in the Colorado General Assembly must be given a public committee hearing and a vote no matter what. Article V, Section 20 of the Colorado Constitution was approved by the voters in 1988 and is known as the GAVEL Amendment (Give A Vote to Every Legislator). This means that no matter which party you come from or what your idea is, your bill has the right to a committee hearing and a vote. Colorado’s practice is seen as a national model and possibly one way to fix the gridlock in Congress.
However, there is one part of this process that has not been as inclusive as possible but I am proud to report that we are taking steps to change that. Let me explain…
When a bill is introduced by a legislator, it is assigned to the committee that has appropriate jurisdiction over the subject matter of the bill. For example, a health insurance bill will go to the health committee, a criminal law bill will go to the judiciary committee, a bill concerning livestock will go to the agriculture committee, and so on. At these committee hearings, we also have a rule that ensures that anyone who shows up to speak on a bill, either in support or in opposition, is guaranteed the right to testify before the committee.
That guarantee means that on the big, important, and controversial bills, committees will meet for as long as necessary to hear every single person’s testimony. And when I say as long as necessary, I mean it: I have been at the Capitol in a committee meeting as late at 2 a.m. and there were meetings of the health committee last session that lasted until after 4 a.m.
Hearing from Coloradans about their thoughts on proposed legislation is an absolute priority for your legislature and truly does impact the way we vote on the bills before us. However, the guarantee of having the right to testify only works if you have the time and resources to travel to Denver, pay for parking, and spend an afternoon (or evening/early morning) in the Capitol — not great for those of you who live here in my House District of Eagle and Routt Counties.
A few years ago, the legislature set up locations to allow for “remote testimony” to allow Coloradans to testify via live video conference from a few select locations closer to their home. Until recently, the closest remote testimony location for those of you in Eagle County was Grand Junction, which for some is an even farther drive than the drive to Denver.
Knowing that was not good enough, I have been working over the last year to bring more locations for remote testimony into the system. I am now pleased to report that starting in the upcoming legislative session remote testimony will be available at the Edwards and Steamboat Springs campuses of Colorado Mountain College.
This is important news for our communities and a huge thank you is owed to CMC for working with my colleagues and me and for their offering of technology, workforce, and space to make this happen. Not every bill has remote testimony available but the big and most-impactful ones will and now the residents of Eagle and Routt Counties will not have to travel far to make sure their voice is heard in their democracy.
To monitor remote testimony opportunities in Edwards and Steamboat, visit leg.colorado.gov/remote-testimony during the legislative session which runs from Jan. 8 through May 6, 2020.
Speaking of being engaged in our democracy, please always feel free to contact me anytime at Dylan.Roberts.House@state.co.us or on my cell at 970-846-3054.
Representative Dylan Roberts resides in Avon and represents Colorado House District 26, encompassing Eagle and Routt counties.