2022 Leg Session, Ari Armstrong, Exclusives, Gold Dome, Politics

Armstrong: Let’s shorten Colorado’s legislative session

“Just put in in the garage.” Or closet. Or wherever. A good rule of thumb when it comes to house space, yard size, scheduling, and more is that people tend to fill the amount of space they have. If you buy a house with an extra bedroom, suddenly you’ll “need” to buy furniture for that room, even if no one ever uses it.

The same thing happens in the Colorado legislature. Lawmakers cram the session with as many bills as they can. If the session were longer, they’d just fill it with more bills. I think we should shorten the session precisely to encourage legislators to pick their battles more carefully.

You can see why Progressives would want the session to be longer, maybe even all year. Progressives think you have a right to run your own life when it comes to who you have sex with and whether you get an abortion. Sometimes these days they also think you have the right to consume whatever substances you want. That marks a shift; alcohol prohibition was a Progressive cause.

Beyond that, though, when it comes to your business, your income, your shopping, your home construction and appliances, your driving, your family’s education, your right to defend yourself, hell, even your trash, Progressives think government needs to be involved with every facet of your life. And if we can get more full-time government employees out of the deal, that’s a feature, not a bug.

Shorter session, fewer bills

I, on the other hand, feel under threat every day the legislature is in session, especially with Progressive-dominated one-party control. I feel profound relief when, finally, the legislature ends its meddling.

True, the legislature does some good things every year. Often “good” is relative here and means it undoes some bad thing it previously did. The legislature has to keep the state government running; we all understand that. But how much legislative time is spent on truly important work, as opposed to needlessly intruding into our lives, ideological posturing, generating fundraising appeals, and electioneering by proxy?

Following the legislature is exhausting for anyone who tries it. Granted, most people don’t even pretend to try. If you go to leg.colorado.gov and click through to see the bills, you will see all 717 results. Does anyone—even any single legislator—thoroughly understand the meaning and implication of all those bills and resolutions?

With fewer bills and a shorter session, regular citizens would have some hope of actually paying attention to what the legislature is up to. Do we want a government “by the people” or a Byzantine monstrosity that, by its hyper-complexity, is forever beyond the comprehension of the people? Paradoxically, the more government intrudes in people’s lives, the more it becomes the arena of tax-paid political professionals and of special-interest lobbyists.

Consider this strange line from the news media: “The Colorado Sun combed through the roughly 650 pieces of legislation introduced at the Capitol this year to pick out 100 bills that passed—and some that didn’t—that you need to know about.” The implication here is that citizens—you know, the people who pay the bills and who are required to obey the laws—don’t need to know about the large majority of bills the legislature considers. Not even journalists have the time or expertise to cover most of the bills. In what sense is such a government accountable to the people? Public ignorance is bliss—if your aim is to game government for ideological or financial benefit.

As Chase Woodruff reviews, there’s nothing magical about a 120-day session, the current norm. That length was set in 1988. Of course the governor can call special sessions too. Woodruff, who wears his ideology on his sleeve (which I appreciate), indicates his agenda on Twitter: “Always worth remembering that the legislature’s arbitrary 120-day limit is a fundamentally regressive and anti-government measure—one of many, many ways in which conservatives are still structurally empowered despite the state’s shift towards Democratic control.” To interpret: “regressive and anti-government” here means moderately restrained rather than completely dominant in our lives.

A shorter session is not the only reform we should consider to help bring government back to the people. Jon Caldara has the excellent idea of letting legislators work from home. Sure, legislators from the Denver Metro area have no trouble commuting to the Capitol every day. But legislators working from remote areas often have to endure profound disruptions to their lives to serve.

More representatives

We should also consider doubling the size of the House. The legislature’s web site says, “Based upon the current population count, State Representatives represent approximately 77,500 citizens per district and State Senators represent approximately 144,000 citizens per district.” Sorry, but with that many constituents per House member, most people have no real access to or influence over their representatives. Most people don’t even know who their representatives are. Then the legislature should give each member only one or two shots to introduce a bill every year, except in extraordinary circumstances.

Peculiarly, many people who claim to be Democrats do everything in their power to take government out of the control, and even beyond the understanding, of the people. I say we need shorter sessions, more legislators, fewer bills, less power to the political insiders, and more power to the people.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism.  He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.


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