How bills really become law

Mesa State College’s bid to change from a community college into a four-year institution could have been derailed in the early 1970s, had it not been for the astuteness of a couple of Grand Junction businessmen.

It was late in the session, and the college bill was in the Joint Budget Committee, a six-member group representing both houses of the Legislature. It had gone to the JBC because of its monetary impact on the state budget. Sen. Harry Locke, R-Salida, as JBC chairman, held life-or-death powers over bills in the committee. Unless he chose to bring them up, they could die without being heard.

As a freshman reporter in the Legislature a few years earlier, I had noticed that all the experienced reporters spent considerable time visiting with legislative secretaries and pages.

And I also noticed that those reporters often seemed to know a whole lot about what was happening before it actually happened. So I, too, had made friends with Senate and House female employees.

One morning, Sen. Locke’s secretary wandered over to me and said: “The senator is getting a lot of mail from Mesa County people who don’t want a four-year college there.” She added that
Locke, based on those letters, had said he probably wouldn’t bring the Mesa College bill before the Joint Budget Committee, in effect killing the bill. It was common knowledge that Locke, whose senatorial district included Gunnison, was a strong supporter of Western State College and wasn’t inclined to give Mesa College anything he didn’t have to.

I couldn’t think of anything I might do, so I picked up a public telephone outside the Senate chambers and called Barclay Jameson, then city editor of The Daily Sentinel and now a Grand Junction retiree. I knew that Jameson and the Sentinel were strong supporters of the four-year college concept, and I told him what I had heard.

“I’ll take care of it,” Jameson promised. In the next few days , Jameson and the late Dale
Hollingsworth, who was executive secretary of the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, got busy among supporters of the four-year concept.

Five or six days later, Locke’s secretary came over and told me quietly that Locke had received a huge assortment of letters from college backers and had decided that, with that much support, he had to bring the bill out of committee. He did, the bill passed, and the rest is history.

There was an earlier — and much more whimsical — reason behind passage of another bill because of timely intervention. It was in the 1967 session when a non-controversial bill, affecting only Mesa County, was introduced to raise the library mill levy. As I remember, Democratic Rep. T. John Baer of Loma was the sponsor, and he had worked hard to get it passed in the House.

The Legislature was pushing toward adjournment, not much was happening, and everybody was just plain bored. That ennui was affecting the news, and I lacked any semblance of a locally oriented story for the next day.

I spied Ted Gill, the crusty long-time Republican senator from rural northeastern Colorado, who was chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee, considered a “graveyard” for bills. I knew that the library bill, which had passed the House easily, was in Gill’s committee, so I asked him when the committee was meeting again and if the library bill would be considered.

Gill told me that the committee had had its last meeting and wanted to know why I was interested in the bill. I answered him honestly: I badly needed a story for the next day’s edition.

Gill was just the kind of ornery character to whom such a capricious answer appealed, and he said he would call a final committee meeting.

He did.  The bill was reported out of committee and sent to the Senate floor. Nobody other than Mesa County legislators cared much one way or the other.  The senators were all anxious to get home, so they passed the bill and it went on to become law.

Baer used the bill’s passage as a proof of his efficacy in the House of Representatives when he ran for election the following year, and everybody was happy.

Mary Louise Giblin Henderson worked for The Daily Sentinel for more than 40 years, and was the newspaper’s political reporter for many of those years. She is retired and lives in California.


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