Jerry Kopel

KOPEL: 'Rustling' can be beneficial

Stealing bills and amendments is a long and honorable legislative tradition

Recent news stories have centered on claims by state Republican legislators that, during the recently adjourned session, Democrats stole their bills or amendments and took credit for them. That usually happens when one political party controls both the House and Senate. In the past, legislators called this practice “rustling.”

“Rustling” originally applied to the theft of cattle or horses, and legislators use it to describe taking a bill or amendment written by another legislator — usually someone from the other political party. Rustling can be beneficial if the bill’s author is no longer a legislator. It also can be detrimental, if the “rustler” writes a title for his or her bill that’s broad enough to swallow the original idea completely.

For example, soon after she took office in 1975, Sen. Barbara Holme, D-Denver, began working to create an independent Office of Consumer Counsel to protect consumers on issues being decided before the Public Utilities Commission. Although she tried many times, none of her bills on the issue even got to the Senate floor for debate. But in 1984, Sen. Holme’s final year in the Colorado Senate, her constant persistence — and growing public support for the concept — culminated in a successful bill by Sen. Cliff Dodge, R-Denver, and Rep. Bill Artist, R-Greeley.

Consumer protection would not come through an independent agency, but one with less power, under the auspices of state Attorney General Duane Woodard, a Republican. Woodard, in turn, delegated more power to the newly created OCC, such having the OCC report directly to him.

Everyone in the Legislature knew whose efforts had led to the creation of the OCC.
Dodge and Artist, according to one newspaper, “let Sen. Holme host the brief signing ceremony at the Capitol. Gov. Dick Lamm praised Holme for keeping the faith through the years, and the crowd gave her a standing ovation.”

In 1991, Attorney General Gale Norton took a different approach and had the OCC report to deputy AG Garth Lucero, who headed the section related to consumer issues. But under Senate Bill 3 — carried by Sen. Mary Anne Tebedo, R-Colorado Springs, and Rep. David Owen, R-Greeley, both members of the oversight Sunrise-Sunset Committee — the OCC was taken over from the AG’s office and, in 1993, was placed in the Department of Regulatory Agencies as an independent agency. DORA reported that from 1987 to June of 1992, the OCC had been involved in saving consumers several hundred million dollars.

* * *

In 1990, State Rep. Rennie Fagan, D-Colorado Springs, carried House Bill 1146, a bill he didn’t write. HB 1146 was produced through the enormous efforts of Securities Commissioner Phil Feigin in cooperation with the Colorado Bar Association and the securities industry — and it was going to pass.

Securities dealers had finally realized they could not function in Colorado anymore because the securities law produced earlier by the CBA Business Section had turned Colorado into the “garbage pit” of the industry. Banks across the nation would not finance Colorado offerings because there were so many loopholes allowing crooks to operate with immunity in Colorado. Once their pocketbooks were hurting, securities dealers were willing to allow changes in the law.

In the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee, the 87-page Fagan bill was amended into House Bill 1222, “Concerning the Regulation of Securities,” which was carried by Majority Leader Chris Paulson, R-Englewood, at Paulson’s request. The original Fagan bill then died the next day in the House Finance Committee.

HB 1222, the revised Colorado securities bill, did become law in what must have been a bittersweet moment for Fagan, who was able to add his name as co-sponsor of HB 1222 after its third reading in the House.

* * *

It’s really not rustling to add your bill that did not get out of committee as a floor amendment to another bill with a broad title (such as “A Bill Concerning Criminal Law”) which, in the opinion of the original sponsor, would allow him or her to pick up support.

I used such an approach in 1988 by having Senate co-sponsor Jim Rizzuto, D-Las Animas, add House Bill 1143, “Protection of employees of businesses under contract with state agencies who disclose information relating to state government,” to House Bill 1009 by Rep. Pat Grant, R-Denver, “Concerning government competition with private enterprise.”

The point of my amendment was to provide a shelter for the jobs of whistleblowers. It does that. But Grant refused a possible payment to the whistleblower for government money saved.

A good government amendment for CRS 24-114-103 in 2010? Provide a financial incentive for whistleblowers who save money the state wouldn’t get back any other way.

Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.