Paul Lundeen proposes shorter legislative sessions, biennial budget process

State Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, appears in an episode of the Independence Institute's "Freedom Minute" series posted online on Friday, March 17, 2017, on the IITV channel on YouTube. (Courtesy Independence Institute via YouTube)

State Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, appears in an episode of the Independence Institute’s “Freedom Minute” series posted online on Friday, March 17, 2017, on the IITV channel on YouTube. (Courtesy Independence Institute via YouTube)

State Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, wants to shorten Colorado’s legislative session and overhaul the way lawmakers approve annual budgets by doing away with the Joint Budget Committee and moving to biennial budgets.

“Mark Twain said it best,” Lundeen says, setting the tone at the beginning of a brief video posted online by the Independence Institute. “‘No person’s life, liberty or property are safe when the legislature is in session.’”

Lundeen proposes cutting the General Assembly’s 120-day session to 60 days in even-numbered years and 90 days in odd-numbered years. In the odd years, he says, legislators would put together a two-year budget.

“And here’s the best part,” Lundeen says. “The budget, instead of being controlled by the Joint Budget Committee — only six members of the Legislature — would go to all 100 members of the Legislature in their committees of reference. Education would deal with education, Corrections with corrections; the people with expertise to control the budget would, in fact, have the opportunity to deal with the budget.”

As the video races to its conclusion — it isn’t called the “Freedom Minute” series for nothing — Lundeen sums up: “Shorten the session, bring the budget back to the people that represent the people.”

The state constitution requires that the General Assembly start business no later than the second Wednesday in January and limits regular legislative sessions to 120 day. It’s rare lawmakers aren’t scrambling right up to the deadline, which will be May 10 this year. The legislative session passed its half-way point on Saturday.

House Republican leaders said last week that the GOP caucus has been considering how to revamp the state’s budget process, potentially weakening or abolishing the powerful Joint Budget Committee and instead crafting a budget in the other committees.

Minority Leader Pat Neville, R-Castle Rock, suggested that caucus members wouldn’t be introducing proposals along those lines this session, but it appears some might.

Lundeen has yet to introduce legislation to accomplish what he’s proposing.

The kind of changes Lundeen is entertaining would have to be approved by voters as a constitutional amendment. The 120-day session limit was set in 1988 when 52 percent of state voters approved a ballot measure known as Referendum 3. (In the same election, 72 percent of voters approved the GAVEL Amendment — “Give A Vote to Every Legislator” — to abolish the General Assembly’s powerful rules committees, forbid binding caucus votes and ban so-called “pocket vetoes” wielded by committee chairs.)

“I think we need to fundamentally change how we do the budget,” Neville told reporters at a briefing held as the mid-session approached.

“I think we have a problem when the JBC gets together and does a budget without having much input from the committees of reference, and much otherwise input,” he said. “It’s business as usual, the way we’ve been doing it.”

Assistant Minority Leader Cole Wist, R-Centennial, said House Republicans have been pondering how to improve the process.

“We’re elected to come here and make tough decisions about what our priorities are,” he said. “And in our caucus, we spend a lot of time talking about what proper functions of government are, and those are reflected in budgetary decisions. There are a lot of things we’d like government to be. The question is, what should government be, and what are the proper functions and roles of that government. That’s the fundamental discussion we’re having.”

Neville invoked a word House Republicans have been using a lot this session — priorities — as he argued the current budget process is chugging along without setting them clearly.

“We have more money than we’ve ever had, year over year, but we don’t have a good system that lays out, ‘Here’s our priorities,’ and then we can work out how we need to change statute to get to those priorities,” he said.

ernest@coloradostatesman.com

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