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Constitutional Requirements


Constitutional Requirements or Restrictions that Affect the Plenary Authority of the General Assembly

Under Art. V, Sec. 1 of the state constitution, the General Assembly is vested with the full "legislative power of the state", except for the powers of initiative and referendum, which the people of the state reserved to themselves. The courts interpret this provision as granting the General Assembly plenary authority – that is, the General Assembly has the power to enact any legislation, except to the extent that this power is specifically restricted or limited by the state constitution.

There are several constitutional provisions that impose restrictions or requirements on the legislative process or on the form of legislation. Following are the procedural and form restrictions and requirements that legislators most often encounter. These lists do not include constitutional restrictions or requirements that are based on a particular subject area.

Constitutional Provisions that Govern the Legislative Process

For the full constitutional language on these topics, see Article V of the Colorado Constitution


Art. V, Sec. 7: Required time and duration of regular legislative sessions.

Each year, the General Assembly must convene the regular legislative session at 10:00 a.m. no later than the second Wednesday in January. Once convened, the legislative session must adjourn sine die within 120 calendar days. Any legislation introduced during the regular legislative session that is not concluded by midnight on the 120th day is dead.
The General Assembly may meet in a special legislative session:
• If called by the Governor but only to address the issues identified by the Governor in the call; or
• If called by a letter signed by two-thirds of the members of each house and submitted to the presiding officer of each house but only to address the issues specified in the letter.

Art. V, Sec. 10: Selection of officers

At the beginning of the first regular legislative session after a general election, and at other times if necessary, the Senate must elect one of its members to serve as President and the House must elect one of its members to serve as Speaker. They will each serve until their successor is elected. Each chamber chooses its other officers and judges the election and qualification of its members.

Art. V, Sec. 12: Legislative rules

The House and Senate each adopts its own rules to govern procedure, punish members for contempt, enforce obedience to the process, and protect members from violence or offers of bribes. With a 2/3 vote, the House or Senate may expel one of its members. And the House and the Senate each have all other powers necessary for the legislature of a free state.

Art. V, Sec. 20: Consideration of bills in committee; calendaring for committee of the whole ("GAVEL Amendment")

Each introduced bill must be assigned to a committee of reference, and the committee must consider the bill on its merits and take a vote on the bill. A motion to report the bill favorably out of the committee, with or without amendments, is always in order within the appropriate deadlines.

Each bill that's reported to the committee of the whole must be placed on the calendar in the order in which it was reported and within appropriate deadlines. This provision is commonly referred to as the GAVEL ("Give a Vote to Every Legislator") Amendment.

Art. V, Sec. 22: Reading and passage of bills

When a bill is introduced, only the title is read into the record. Before the bill can become law, it must be read at length on two different days in each house, unless the members present at each reading unanimously consent to a reading of only the bill title. In each chamber, all of the substantial amendments that the members make to the bill must be printed for each member's use before the chamber takes a final vote on the bill. A bill cannot become law unless a majority of the members in each chamber vote for the bill on two separate days in each chamber and the ayes and noes on the vote for final passage in each chamber are recorded in the appropriate journal.
This leads to the requirement that it takes at least three days to pass a bill:
• Day one: Introduce the bill in the first house, hear the bill in committee, and pass the bill on second reading in the first house.
• Day two: Pass the bill on third reading in the first house, introduce the bill in the second house, hear the bill in committee, and pass the bill on second reading in the second house.
• Day three: Pass the bill on third reading in the second house and, if necessary, resolve any differences between the versions passed by each house and readopt the bill in each house.

Art. V, Sec. 22a: Binding caucus votes prohibited

A legislator, by voting in a caucus meeting or a similar proceeding, cannot commit himself or herself or any other legislator to vote for or against a bill, to confirm or not confirm a governor's appointment, to override a veto, or to vote for or against any other measure or issue pending or proposed to be introduced in the General Assembly.

Art. V, Sec. 23: Majority, recorded vote required to resolve differences between the houses on bills passed by both houses

A majority of the elected members (33 in the House; 18 in the Senate) must agree in order for the House or the Senate to concur in the amendments made in the second house, accede to the amendments made in the first house, or adopt a conference committee report. Each legislator's vote must be recorded in the journal.

Art. V, Sec. 39: Resolutions must be presented for the Governor's signature

Every joint resolution and joint memorial must be sent to the Governor for approval or veto, except for joint resolutions that apply to adjournment or relate solely to the transaction of business by the General Assembly. If the Governor vetoes a joint resolution or joint memorial, it can be repassed by a 2/3 vote in each house in the same manner as a bill.

Constitutional Requirements that Apply to Legislation

For the full constitutional language on these topics, see Article V of the Colorado Constitution


Art. V, Sec. 17: Laws only passed by bill; bill can't change from its original purpose

Only a bill can create or amend a law; a resolution, joint resolution, memorial, or joint memorial does not have the force of law and is not enforceable as law.
The General Assembly cannot amend a bill so significantly that the bill no longer accomplishes the purpose it was written to accomplish when introduced.

Art. V, Sec. 18: Each bill must have an enacting clause

To be constitutional, each bill must begin with the phrase, "Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Colorado." As a matter of practice, if a bill is amended to remove the enacting clause, the bill is considered dead.

Art. V, Sec. 19: Bills take effect by a particular date; bill cannot be introduced with only a title

When the General Assembly passes a bill, it takes effect on the date specified in the bill. If the bill doesn't specify a date, the bill takes effect when it is signed, or allowed to become law, by the Governor.
A legislator cannot introduce a bill that consists only of the bill title; a bill must also include text that sets forth the changes to existing law or makes appropriations.

Art. V, Sec. 21: Single subject requirement

A bill cannot contain more than one subject, and that subject must be clearly expressed in the bill title. This requirement does not apply to a bill that only contains appropriations. If a bill contains items that are not included within the subject specified in the bill title, a court may hold that those items are unconstitutional, but the rest of the bill, so long as it does fit within the subject of the bill title, will not be unconstitutional.

Art. V, Sec. 31: Revenue bills must start in the House

A bill that raises revenue must be introduced first in the House. The Senate may amend the bill after it passes the House. This provision has been interpreted by the Attorney General to apply to bills that raise or reduce state general fund revenue.

Art. V, Sec. 32: General appropriations bill cannot include substantive provisions

The general appropriations bill can only include appropriations to pay the expenses of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches, state institutions, interest on the public debt, and public schools. It cannot include substantive changes to the statutes. All other appropriations must be made in separate bills, which may include both substantive and appropriation provisions, and which must comply with the single subject requirement.

Art. V, Sec. 34: Appropriations to private institutions are prohibited

The General Assembly cannot appropriate state money for any charitable, industrial, educational, or benevolent purpose to a person, corporation, or community that the state does not control. And the General Assembly cannot appropriate money to a denominational or sectarian institution or association.

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