‘Cacophony’ of Computers Doesn’t Count as Bill Reading for Colorado High Court

A split Colorado Supreme Court found computers can’t be used to speed-read through proposed legislation as the state constitution requires.

The Colorado statehouse. (Courthouse News photo / Chris Marshall)

(CN) — The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday shot down a tactic employed by Colorado Democrats in 2019 to circumvent the reading of a 2,000-page bill out loud.

As they held majorities in both the state Senate and House during the 2019 Colorado legislative session, Democrats were in the process of powering through a bill that would massively change the way the state regulates oil and gas development.

In efforts to pump the brakes, several Republicans requested the reading of a 2,000-page bill, “Title 12 Recodification and Reorganization.”

The state constitution requires “every bill shall be read by title when introduced, and at length on two different days in each house; provided, however, any reading at length may be dispensed with upon unanimous consent of the members present.”

Reading the full recodification bill at 200 words per minute would have taken about six days and delayed progress on other bills by a week or more.

Instead, Colorado Democrats set up five laptops to simultaneously read the 2,000-page bill at 650 words per minute to comply with the constitution and complete the job in one afternoon.

The entirety of legislative day 67 can be viewed on YouTube.

Calling foul, several Republicans sued state Senate President Leroy Garcia Jr., D-Pueblo. A Denver judge issued judgment in favor of the Republicans in May 2019. Garcia appealed, and the Colorado Supreme Court took up the case in July 2020.

“There are unquestionably different ways by which the Legislature may comply with the reading requirement. But the cacophony generated by the computers isn’t one of them,” Associate Justice Carlos Samour wrote for the high court. Samour was appointed by Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper.

“While the judiciary has no business dictating the specifics of how the Legislature might comply with the reading requirement, it is the judiciary’s prerogative and responsibility to declare that the legislature did not comply with the requirement in this case,” Samour wrote for the divided court in a 25-page opinion.

In defending the robot reader, Garcia had insisted courts have no place in dictating legislative proceedings. The Colorado Supreme Court agreed, writing that the lower erred by advising the Legislature on how to comply with the reading requirement.

“It was not within the district court’s domain to dictate the form or manner by which the Legislature may comply with the reading requirement,” Samour wrote.

Three of the seven high court justices dissented, led by Justice Monica Marquez, appointed by Republican Governor Bill Ritter.

“The majority concludes that the computerized recitation of House Bill 1172 on March 11, 2019, was not really a ‘reading’ of the bill,” Marquez wrote in a 15-page dissent joined by two other justices. “But it does not explain why this is so.”

“In my view, the plain language of article V, section 22 simply requires that bills be ‘read,’ or uttered aloud. Nothing more,” explained Marquez. “Here, because the entirety of HB 1172 was, in fact, read aloud, article V, section 22 was satisfied.”

Justice William Hood and Melissa Hart — both Hickenlooper appointees — joined the dissent.

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