As you know, advocating on behalf of architects is an important part of our work at AIA Colorado. You probably are also aware that the Colorado Legislative Session is underway, and that we are closely monitoring bills that could impact the profession.
But like many Coloradans, you may not know exactly how the legislative process works. What does the legislative branch do? How does a bill become a law? Why is it important for architects to get involved and contact policymakers?
No two state legislatures operate the same way in the United States. For AIA Colorado to succeed in at the State Capitol, it’s critical for our members to understand how bills become laws in our state, and where architects can be most effective during the legislative process.
This is the first part in a series to help you learn about the system we must navigate as we advocate on behalf of Colorado architects.
Part 1: Colorado State Government Structure – The Legislative Branch
Our state legislative branch is collectively referred to as the Colorado General Assembly and is made up of two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate.
- 65 House members serve two-year terms.
- The entire chamber is up for election together every even-numbered year.
- 35 Senate members6 serve four-year terms.
- Elections are staggered so that roughly half the chamber is up for election every even-numbered year.
- Legislators can serve for eight consecutive years in the same chamber, then must leave their seat for four years before running for it again.
In Colorado, it’s common to begin a legislative career in the House, then run for a Senate seat. This means we can see the same legislator for up to 16 consecutive years at the Capitol. It’s far less common to see a legislator run for their old seat after leaving office upon reaching the eight-year term limit.
Every legislator sits on one or more Committees of Reference, which are divided by subject (education, finance, transportation, etc.). Generally, these subjects closely match in each chamber.
Every bill introduced will get a public hearing in a committee, where legislators decide if the bill gets sent to the floor for a full-chamber vote.
- Every committee has an odd number of legislators, with a one-vote majority belonging to the political party that controls the chamber.
- Currently, there are eleven committees in the House, with nine to 13 members each.
- Currently, there are ten committees in the Senate, with five to 11 members each.
Legislators may also sit on year-round committees, tasked with issues that are not related to bills proposed in the legislative session. The Joint Budget Committee for example, is directly responsible for most major budget-related decisions. It always consists of three members from each major political party and is responsible for introducing the annual budget to the General Assembly as a whole.
What does this mean for AIA Colorado?
Finding allies of the architecture profession at the beginning of their legislative career is an important long-term investment that helps to advance and protect architects.
Political contributions through ARCpac and ARCsdc can help these allies get re-elected for a relationship that can last more than a decade. On the flip side, our organization must maintain a level of respect for those legislators that only share AIA Colorado’s cause (or members’ personal values) in limited circumstances. We may find ourselves interacting with those legislators for years to come whether we support them or not.
Furthermore, bills that affect the architecture profession and built environment are more likely to be heard in certain committees over others. We benefit from having allies on these key committees that already understand and are generally supportive of our profession.
That’s why we ask you to contact your representatives from time to time—so that we continually bolster our relationships with elected officials, create more alliances and ensure that architects’ voices are represented in policy decisions.
Getting a bill through a committee is one of the biggest hurdles we face, which we’ll go into detail on in the next part of this series.