Rating bills demographically a bad idea, GOP says

DENVER — Every bill that is introduced into the Colorado Legislature gets what is called a fiscal note.

That note, compiled by the nonpartisan Legislative Council staff, is designed to show the immediate impact a bill would have on the state’s finances.

Now, some legislators want to create a new kind of note to go along with that one, a note that measures the demographic impact of a bill.

Sponsors of the idea behind HB1191, House Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Boulder, and Leslie Herod, D-Denver, say it would be useful to know how certain measures would impact rural parts of the state rather than urban ones, and black communities compared to white ones, as examples.

“This is really important so that we can have unbiased, nonpartisan information on some of our biggest bills that maybe impact some of our rural communities disproportionately or some of our communities of color,” Herod said of the bill that won preliminary approval in the House on Friday.

But some lawmakers said such notes could lead to special-interest legislation.

Rep. Dan Thurlow, R-Grand Junction, said the notes themselves might not be all that accurate despite having a nonpartisan staff compiling it. A common criticism by lawmakers of fiscal notes is that they can be skewed by state agencies that don’t like the underlying bill to which the note is attached.

“There can be so many subjective issues in a fiscal note, so I suggest that process is a little bit suspect,” Thurlow said. “But this process ... man, what a way to start to further the agenda of different people to figure out a demographic note on some bills, and have our staff somehow go out and arbitrarily understand demographic implications of the policy positions we take. It’s nothing but a way to support a policy position.”

Democrats who supported the bill said it will help determine how a measure may impact people based on race, gender, disability, age, geography, income or other “relevant characteristics.” The bill limits the number of measures that would receive such notes.

Republicans said the laws that are enacted now impact everyone, not just a select few. As a result, every bill already is examined for its impacts on Colorado residents as a matter of course, they said.

“We know who our constituents are, that’s who we are called to represent,” said Rep. Tim Leonard, R-Evergreen. “This is very divisive. How a specific piece of legislation will specifically impact specific groups or classes of people, that’s not blindfolded justice. That’s specific segmenting and profiling of people and their groups.”

Herod and others said what’s really blindfolded is for individual lawmakers from one region of the state to debate controversial measures without any real understanding of how they might impact people in other communities.

“It’s interesting that folks find knowledge and information to be divisive,” Herod said. “I would argue that in this chamber ignorance is not bliss. In this chamber, ignorance is reckless.”

The measure requires a final House vote before heading to the Senate.


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