The first time I entered the Colorado State Capitol I was immediately intimidated by the trappings of power in the place—I felt small and insignificant. But, as I’ve continued to do this work, the Capitol has become much less frightening because of how much I’ve learned about the legislative process. It’s so important that Coloradans participate in what goes on under the golden dome, but it’s hard to know how or when to get involved. Here are a few of the major lessons I have picked up along the way, so you can step up your advocacy game:
Lesson #1: It’s not as secretive a process as it may feel
Colorado is required to be transparent about the inner workings of its government. All information about bills and proceedings are (usually) available to the public and can be found on the General Assembly website. It may take a little time to find what you’re looking for, but the bill search function is a helpful tool in finding and tracking a bill’s progress.
Lesson #2A: Committee assignment is key
The legislative committee a bill is assigned to can make or break its journey through the legislature. When a bill is introduced, it is first heard in either the House of Representatives or the Senate, and then it is assigned to a relevant committee. So, for example, any health care bill that is introduced in the Senate is likely to be assigned to the Senate Health & Human Services Committee. That committee hears the bill and votes on it, and depending on the make-up of the committee, you can typically predict how your bill is going to fare. A committee with 2 Democrats and 3 Republican Senators will move forward different bills than one with 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans.
Lesson #2B: Some committees are just bad news
There are some committees that are known as “kill committees,” where bills hardly ever pass. Both the House & Senate in Colorado have a State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee, which ends up being a catch-all committee for bills that don’t fit anywhere else or if the leadership wants to see a bill die. If a bill you’re interested in is assigned to this committee, you’re likely to see it voted down.
Lesson #3: You don’t have to live in or come to Denver to share your story
In 2016, remote video testimony was made possible so constituents weren’t required to travel all the way to Denver to share their perspective. This technology is still in its infancy, but it is a good start to hearing more voices from across the state. You still have to be available during the time of the committee hearing, which isn’t always ideal, but it’s an important improvement.
Lesson #4: Your voice and your vote do matter
Your legislators want to hear from you! Legislators rarely hear from constituents and we often are told that they want to hear from more of them. Your legislators are most accountable to you as a voter, so if they make a move that you don’t agree with, let them know—especially during an election year like 2018. If they know they’re at risk of losing your vote, they may be more likely to listen to what you have to say.
There’s always more to learn about how to follow bills and work at the Capitol. You can see what bills we’re working on, join our policy committee (all Center for Health Progress members are eligible to join), or reach out and share your story. We’d love to help you get more engaged in the legislative process!