Colorado Judge Set to Rule on Statehouse Speed-Read

The Colorado statehouse. (Chris Marshall/CNS)

DENVER (CN) – A Denver judge promised a quick order Tuesday in a spat over the use of computers to speed-read a 2,000-page bill during a legislative session.

Three Republican state senators sued the Democratic senate president and secretary this past week for employing five laptops to simultaneously read the 2,000-page bill at 650 words per minute to comply with a request to read the bill at length.

State Sen. Robert Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, likened the robotic chorus to “insect sounds you might find in a sci-fi movie.”

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

Plaintiffs’ attorney Christopher Murray of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck in Denver said the Democrats’ use of the laptops to read the bill was like printing the bill over and over on the same side of a single piece of paper.

“That stretches the definition of ‘audibly’ to the point of breaking,” Murray said.

But attorney 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 David Goldberg to “leave the legislative process to the Legislature.”

Plaintiffs include Gardner, who sponsored the bill, 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” bill 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.

Asked by Grueskin about the intent behind the request to read the bill, Gardner grinned and set his chin in his hand.

“In my experience, many citizens ask us ‘You have a 2,000 page bill, has anyone read it? How do you know it’s nonsubstantive if nobody’s read it?’ Even a nonsubstantive bill can be nuanced and called into question,” Gardner said.

Grueskin noted no one had testified on behalf of the bill and there is no evidence that anyone intended to listen to it read at length given the text is posted online. He also pointed out since the bill was simply recodification, even if it doesn’t pass the laws addressed within its 2,000 pages are still technically on the books.

Goldberg said he will issue an order on the plaintiffs’ request for preliminary injunction Tuesday afternoon. His ruling will supplant a March 12 order in which he barred state Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, from “refusing to read legislation, including HB 1172 in an intelligible fashion absent the unanimous consent of all members present.”

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

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