If a divine spirit were to protect the Colorado Capitol, a good candidate for the job would be Jude the Apostle, the patron saint of lost causes, because many bills
introduced each year have virtually no chance of becoming law.
And the lawmakers who craft the bills and argue for them in committee hearings know they are licked before they start because the opposing party will never allow it.
Last year, a little more than half of the 682 bills managed to get through the Democrat-led House and the Republican-led Senate.
This year — with November's election looming — both parties will cling to their talking points and position papers more tightly than ever, say top lawmakers and political pundits.
"It is really difficult to pass anything other than compromise legislation right now in Colorado," said Kyle Saunders, an associate professor of political science at Colorado State University. "Any legislation that does not pass muster with both parties, with rare exception, just falls to the wayside at some point in the process.
"Party caucus leaderships and individual legislators know and work under these difficult conditions. To wit, their proposals, wherever they do die in the process — whether in committee or on the floor or by the veto pen — are strategically considered by a party's caucus leadership as well as by each member in how it will affect their prospects of re-election."
With the partisan split, the casualties are predictable.
Republicans introduce ill-fated bills on guns, taxes, regulations and abortion, which House Democrats will surely block. Democrats in the minority in the Senate have little chance to pass anything that's pro-union, pro-environment regulation or anti-energy production.
With narrow majorities in each chamber — one seat for the GOP in the 35-member Senate and three for Democrats in the 65-member House — the stakes are high for the November election. If either chamber flips, the majority party has an easier path to get bills on the governor's desk.
Split is criticalA split legislature makes a big difference.
In 2014, when Democrats controlled both chambers, they passed 68.4 percent of the bills before them. Last year, after Republicans took the Senate, the success rate fell to 53.8 percent.
In each chamber, the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee is typically the destination for bills marked for death by each chamber's majority leadership. They're even referred to as "kill committees" by legislators and lobbyists.
But Rep. Su Ryden, chairwoman of the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, doesn't like the term.
"I prefer to call it the quality-control committee," Ryden joked.
Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, a staunch religious conservative from Colorado Springs, runs bills deemed as anti-gay, anti-abortion and pro-guns.
Last year, four of the five bills he introduced went straight to the House kill committee and died. Two of his first three bills this year are in the kill committee. He has introduced bills both years to remove the state's involvement in Obamacare.
Klingenschmitt said that regardless of where Democratic House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst assigns his bill, he has a responsibility to fight for those who elected him.
"I had a town hall meeting and asked people if I should try this again, to repeal Obamacare, and unanimously they all said yes I should try this again," he said recently. "The fact that the Democratic speaker sent it to the kill committee instead of a health care committee proves it's just power politics and an abuse of power by the Democratic speaker from Boulder."
Rep. Joe Salazar, a Democrat from Thornton, typically sponsors the House's most controversial bills. Last year, Salazar sponsored a bill to ban offensive America Indian mascots. It barely got out of the House and died unceremoniously in the Senate.
After the session, the governor appointed a commission to hold public meetings between tribal leaders and community members in school districts that use tribal mascots.
"It's to advance the dialogue," Salazar said recently of his controversial bills. "Let's take a look at the mascot bill. Had I not run that bill, would the governor have established that commission? Probably not, and we're getting good feedback from across the state from the schools, and there are schools that are changing their approach to the issue ... because of the dialogue."
House Republican leader Brian DelGrosso of Loveland said he would prefer to see fewer bills, because the glut of bills that have no chance of passing takes time and attention away from important bills that might otherwise find compromise.
"The majority of bills people run here they think are important to their constituents," he said. "We're a pretty diverse state, and what might be important to me or someone in my district might not be important to someone else's. But we're all here to represent our districts. I think people run bills so they can go back to their districts and say, 'Look, I'm trying to do something that is important to the people in my district.' "
While message bills are understandable, they also can feed partisan cynicism, said one of the statehouse's veteran lobbyists.
"Until recently, consideration for the viability of a bill's passage in both houses was a factor in deciding whether to introduce a measure," said Sandra Hagen Solin, founder, president and CEO of the Capitol Solutions political services firm, who has been lobbying the legislature since 1994. "In a split majority environment, where many feel powerless to pass legislation, that consideration has been replaced by the objective of making a political point or getting a recorded vote.
"Unfortunately, it has also widened the political divide."
Colorado legislation statistics
House bills introduced: 392
House bills passed: 193
Senate bills introduced: 290
Senate bills passed: 174
Overall: 367 of 682 (53.8 percent)
House bills introduced: 398
House bills passed: 274
Senate bills introduced: 223
Senate bills passed: 151
Overall: 425 of 621 (68.4 percent)
House bills introduced: 325
House bills passed: 219
Senate bills introduced: 288
Senate bills passed: 222
Overall: 441 of 613 (71.9 percent)
* Democrats controlled the House and Senate. In 2015, Democrats controlled the House, and Republicans controlled the Senate.