Lame laws targeted
In Colorado, married women may own property, telephone callers must give up a party line in an emergency, and hospitals are exempt from liability caused by the Year 2000 millennium bug.
Those are only a few of the outdated or archaic laws still in the state’s statute books that Sen.-elect Steve King wants to do away with when the Legislature reconvenes Wednesday.
The Grand Junction Republican, who is moving from the Colorado House to the Senate, said he wants to create a permanent legislative panel that will review sections of state law, gauge the effectiveness of laws and introduce bills to update those still needed, and do away with those that aren’t.
“This is to prevent legislation from just falling through the cracks, or are just on the books but not doing anything,” he said. “It allows you to make sure that the legislation is functional and to ensure that any unintended consequences don’t overwhelm the intent.”
King’s proposed committee would work on 12-year cycles, taking up one section of the statutes at a time and then start all over again. The Legislature already does that, but it’s not in the fashion King is proposing.
Until the mid-1980s, the Legislature had a similar standing panel, which was called the Statutory Revision Committee. It was repealed in 1985 in favor of the Sunrise and Sunset Review Committee, which still operates today.
While that panel reviews state laws and regulations about to go into effect and those that are scheduled to expire, it doesn’t look at everything because not all laws have sunrise or sunset provisions, which is when laws become effective or are set to expire.
Lawmakers also update or remove existing statutes through the “Revisor’s Bill,” an omnibus measure introduced into the Legislature each year to remove obsolete, inconsistent or conflicting laws. Even though there are about 30 people in the Legislature’s Office of Legal Services who spend months each year reviewing state laws and contribute to the drafting of that bill, they don’t get everything.
The office, which by law must remain nonpartisan on all matters, won’t propose taking something out of state law that could be considered controversial even in the smallest way. As a result, it focuses only on such things as conflicts with other state statutes, laws that haven’t kept pace with changes in federal law, or laws that didn’t quite reflect the original intent of legislators.
The 2010 Revisor’s Bill, for example, was 114 pages long and addressed nearly 200 changes to state law, including such things as resolving inconsistencies in recently approved bills with existing laws and changing terminology to match wording used in U.S. Code.
But existing laws the office won’t put into a revisors bill include anything substantive, such as doing away with an 1876 law titled “Rights of a Married Woman.” That law gave women the right to own property and operate their own businesses, rights women have today that are equal to men that are noted elsewhere in state and federal law and the U.S. and Colorado constitutions.
While neither the revisors bill nor the review committee generally considers doing away with such laws, there are others outside the Legislature who do.
The Colorado Bar Association has several committees that routinely review state statutes on behalf of the association’s members, whether they be probate attorneys, defense counsels or corporate lawyers, said Mike Valdez, the bar’s legislative liaison.
Valdez said its committees don’t look at all laws, either. As a result, he said the bar association welcomes King’s idea.
“We don’t do it from the perspective that Senator-elect King is looking at in terms of finding the archaic or the costly or the unused ones,” he said. “We’re looking at the statutes from the lens of how can these be improved for everyone, for practitioners and for the public to make them more understandable, more readable and making sure we’re up to date. We’ve got people who are looking at laws all day long, so if he’s thinking of running a bill like that, we’d be interested in helping.”
King, who will serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee when he’s sworn into office this month, admits that doing away with laws dealing with telephone party lines that no longer exist or the Y2K bug that never materialized won’t save the state any money, but other changes could.
Regardless, it’s a good mind-set for legislators to have. Lawmakers don’t have to come to the Legislature each year to pass new laws, he said. Sometimes it’s more productive to get rid of old ones.
“That’s the trouble with the mentality we have as a government sometimes,” King said. “Just introduce more and more bills, keep more and more laws. Not every idea is a great idea. Not every idea is a perfect idea. Government, no matter what it is, costs money. It’s a way of being fiscally sound and seeing if we’re doing the best we can do with the money we have.”