Colorado Democrats Blocked From Speed-Reading Bill

The Colorado statehouse. (Chris Marshall/CNS)

DENVER (CN) – Siding with Republican state lawmakers Tuesday, a Colorado judge said Democrats can’t use laptops to speed-read a 2,000-page bill at 650 words a minute.

Three Republican state senators sued the Democratic senate president and secretary this past week for employing five laptops to simultaneously read a 2,000-page bill at 650 words per minute. The Democrats hatched the plan after a Republican lawmaker asked to have the bill read in its entirety in order to delay a vote on another bill involving changes to the state’s energy laws.

“The court was unable to discern a single word from the tape played during the court proceeding,” Denver Judge David Goldberg wrote in an 8-page order. “To ‘read’ the bill, which is a constitutional requisite, in such a manner renders it a nullity.”

The question dug into the Colorado Constitution itself, ratified July 1, 1876, which mandates “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.”

Before the court Tuesday, Mark Grueskin of Recht Kornfeld, representing the Democratic senators, questioned the plaintiffs’ motivation and said the court was being asked to step into a debate outside its boundaries.

“The fact that it’s been out before you makes it a political question and the court should not be asked to play traffic cop,” Grueskin said, imploring the judge to “leave the legislative process to the Legislature.”

In his order, Goldberg clarified he was not entering the political spat.

“The court does not perceive this issue to be a political question. The court does not concern itself with the legislation at hand, the majority or minority party, or the number of days remaining in the legislative session. The issue before the court is the constitutional interpretation,” Goldberg wrote. “This requirement is mandatory. If either house violates this requirement in enacting a law, the law so enacted is invalid.”

Plaintiffs include state Senator Robert Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, who sponsored the bill at issue and state Senate Minority Leader Chris Holdert, R-Douglas, who requested the “Title 12 Recodification and Reorganization” bill be read in a bid to stall a vote on another controversial bill backed by Democrats – who hold a majority in the state Senate – and Governor Jared Polis, also a Democrat.

That bill, “Protect Public Welfare Oil and Gas Operations,” was introduced March 1 and if passed would overhaul how the state regulates the oil and gas industry. It moved through the state Senate despite the reading of “Title 12” and on Monday sailed through the House Committee on Energy & Environment.

After three hours of reading the recodification measure on March 11, five laptops using Nuance Power PDF’s auto-reader were set up to speed-read the bill. The incomprehensible entirety of legislative day 67 can be viewed on YouTube.

Reading the 2,000-page bill at 200 words per minute would take about six days. The required second reading at the same speed would, combined with the first reading, amount to 10 percent of the legislative session.

In granting preliminary injunction, Goldberg ordered Senate president Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, to “employ a methodology that is designed to read legislation in an intelligible and comprehensive manner, and at an understandable speed.”

That means legislative staff may be spared because the use of laptops hasn’t entirely been ruled out. In fact, Goldberg told the court Tuesday he has “no problem with technology being used throughout the legislative process.”

Attorney Christopher Murray of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck in Denver represented the plaintiffs and did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Grueskin declined to comment.

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