Capitol Review:

Filed under: Opinion |

For people who have a life, one of the more difficult aspects of following news about the Legislature is making sense out of the peculiar vernacular of the Capitol.

Legislators and lobbyists speak in strange tongues about “fiscal notes” and “legislative declarations” or converse in acronyms (like JBC, DORA, CDE, FTE). Such jargon gives legislators an unparalleled ability to cure insomnia.

Although I strive to speak in English when talking to real people, the sinister syntax of government seeps into the crevices of my mind, causing me to suffer occasional relapses even when I escape the gravitational pull of Capitol Hill.

For readers who diligently brave news reports in order to keep tabs on their elected officials, the following plain English translation of legislative lingo may be helpful:

Amendment 23 – a constitutional provision which requires the Legislature to increase spending on K-12 education at inflation plus one percent every year until 2011.

Capital construction – the portion of the budget used to fund government buildings, including colleges; may include highway construction.

Capital Development Committee (CBC) – the committee which prioritizes the capitol construction budget.

Cave of the Winds – what lowly Representatives call the Senate.

Chamber – refers to either the House (lower chamber) or the Senate (upper chamber).

COW (Committee of the Whole) – before a bill receives formal approval by the entire Senate or House, it must be passed by the committee of the whole, which is the entire chamber; during this phase, debate and amendments are unlimited and the votes of individual members are not recorded unless specifically requested.

Conference committee – when both chambers have passed a bill but disagree on certain amendments, the bill often goes to conference where three members from each chamber attempt to resolve the differences.

Declaration (also, legislative declaration) – a preface included in some bills to explain the intent of the legislation.

Fiscal note – an analysis provided by Legislative Council to describe the impact that a bill, if approved, would have on the state budget.

FTE – full-time employees or full-time equivalent; the number of full-time paid government employees required by particular program or employed in a department.

General fund – the largest part of the budget; funds the day-to-day operations of state government; consists mostly of state income tax, sales tax and property tax revenues.

JBC (Joint Budget Committee) – a “super committee” that writes the budget; consists of three Senators and three Representatives; the majority party in each chamber appoints two members, and the minority party in each chamber appoints one.

Legislative Council – non-partisan research staff that serves the Legislature; also records proceedings of committee meetings.

Legislative Legal Services, Office of (OLLS) – the staff attorneys who help legislators turn their ideas into bills and provide legal research. (As one who always looks for political bias, I must say that both Legislative Council and OLLS staffs are remarkably non-partisan.)

Long bill – the budget; contains more pages than any other bill.

PI – postponed indefinitely; means the bill is killed.

Special interests – organizations interested in a specific set of issues (e.g., property rights, environment, abortion, gun-owners rights) when used objectively; however, most often used disparagingly to refer to any group with which the speaker or writer disagrees.

Strike-below – an amendment which completely re-writes a bill.

Stakeholder – any group which has an obvious stake in a particular bill or issue; a politically-correct term for “special interest.”

Sunset review – regulation of certain professions (e.g., veterinarians, optometrists) must be reviewed by the Legislature, usually every 10 years, at which time the regulations are re-enacted, revised or repealed. If the Legislature does nothing, the regulations expire or “sunset.”

TABOR (Taxpayers Bill of Rights) – a constitutional provision which limits the growth in state government spending to a percentage equal to inflation plus population growth.

TABOR surplus (also “surplus”) – tax revenues collected by the state but which exceed the TABOR limit and, therefore, must be refunded to taxpayers; this money can only be spent if authorized by a vote of the people.

Sen. Mark Hillman (R-Burlington) is the Republican Leader of the Colorado Senate. His e-mail address is mail@markhillman.com.