Colorado Democrats used 5 computers to simultaneously read aloud sections of a 2,000 page bill on the State Senate floor on Monday. The sound produced was unintelligible to humans, but the process met a Constitutional requirement necessary for the bill’s passage.
5 computers take over the Colorado State Senate
A very sensible sounding provision in the Colorado State Constitution requires all bills to be read aloud twice before being voted on by either the State House or Senate. Colorado’s founding fathers probably never envisioned a bill like SB181, however, which cleans up Title 12 of the Colorado Revised Statutes over its 2,023 pages.
For long bills such as SB181, the requirement to read aloud is almost always dispensed with by unanimous consent. Senate Republican, keen to slow down the legislative process for tactical reasons, insisted SB181 be read in full. They hoped to delay or possibly stop hearings and votes on death penalty and energy sector legislation.
Even if SB181 had been read at the lightning-fast, barely intelligible speed of 150 words per minute (the average for a Colorado Senate clerk), the process would have taken between 40-60 hours of precious Senate time.
There appeared to be no other option, however. A Senate clerk got to work, reading the first one hundred and fifty pages in three hours. At this point, it became clear the reading would take several more days – at least.
Democrats then used technology and a constitutional loophole to their advantage. Nothing in the Colorado Constitution requires the reading of a bill to be intelligible.
5 computers were brought onto the Senate floor and began reading different sections of the bill simultaneously. The loud, cacophonous noise filled the chamber while Senate staff waited idly by for the computers to finish their work (see video below).
The reading was completed by 5:30pm, and the Senate was ready to resume normal work the next morning.
Senate Republicans file suit
Arguing that the use of computers was unconstitutional, Senate Republicans filed suit against Senate President Leroy Garcia the next day.
“I’m hopeful this will ensure there is a full process. It’s awful we needed to seek another branch of government to sort through this,” said Republican State Senator Bob Gardner.
A district judge scheduled a hearing for March 19th, and (crucially) issued an injunction against the use of computers to read bills in the State Senate in the meantime.
After the decision, Senator Garcia issued a statement which focused more on the Republican delay tactics than the constitutionality of using 5 computers to read a bill.
“Senate Republicans have decided to employ unprecedented partisan tactics, abuse taxpayer dollars, and waste time that could be spent working for the people of Colorado,” he said.
“It is not too late. My door is open, and my colleagues are welcome to discuss how we can come together to ensure we pass the best policy for Coloradans — like we were elected to do.”
The judicial injunction came too late to stop the Senate from moving on to consider legislation opposed by Republicans, however.
The next day, Denver experienced a severe blizzard – enough for Governor Jared Polis to declare a state emergency. Heeding the Governor’s call, the Colorado House of Representatives and all state agencies were closed. The Colorado Senate, however, opened as normal – at Senator Garcia’s order.
Hearings were held on the oil and gas legislation. The bill was passed by the close of the week, with Senators voting 19-15 along strict party lines.