Category: Government

Civics – Congress and the Colorado General Assembly

 

Words Mean Things:   Congress

It is common for people to refer to members of the Colorado General Assembly as “Congressman” or ‘Congresswoman.” Please note that is incorrect. In American government, the word “Congress” refers to the bi-cameral federal legislature.

There are 435 elected voting members of the lower chamber of Congress, the United States House of Representatives. There are also an assortment of elected, non-voting members of the US House who represent Washington, DC; Guam; the US Virgin Islands; and, a few other US territories.

There are 100 elected voting members of the upper chamber of Congress, the United States Senate. In addition, the Vice-President of the United States serves as President of the Senate and who, upon a tie vote, casts a tie-breaking vote as the 101st member.

The bi-cameral Colorado state legislature is referred to as the “Colorado General Assembly.”

There are 65 elected voting members of the lower chamber of our General Assembly, the Colorado House of Representatives. There are 35 members of the upper chamber of our General Assembly, the Colorado Senate.

The state legislature is never accurately referred to as “state Congress.” Why? Because “Congress” refers to our federal legislature. Calling the General Assembly “Congress” is contradictory. That literally means a state federal legislature, which doesn’t exist.

Using the word “Congress” to refer to a state legislature is like calling the chief executive of the federal government “Mayor of the United States.” Nope. That person is the President of the United States. Or, calling the Governor of Colorado the “President of Colorado.” Nope, that person is the Governor.

President, Governor, and Mayor are all titles assigned to the chief executive of a certain level of government, but those titles are not interchangeable. They actually designate the level of government: federal, state, or municipal. Much the same, the labels Congress, General Assembly, and City/Town Council refer to elected policy making bodies at the federal, state, and municipal levels of government.

In some states, the legislature might be called the “House of Delegates” and members referred to as “delegates.” In other states, the titles of “Assemblyman” and “Assemblywomen” are used. Here in Colorado, we use the titles “Representative” and “Senator” to address the members of our bi-cameral state legislature, the Colorado General Assembly.

At the federal level, all members of the US House and US Senate are members of Congress. The word “Congress” doesn’t mean the lower chamber, it refers to both chambers.

However, members of the US House generally like the titles of “Congressman” or “Congresswoman” as opposed to “Representative.” Why? Because it equalizes them with the members of the US Senate. Meanwhile, members of the US Senate generally prefer the title of “Senator” rather than “Congressman” or “Congresswoman.” Why? Because it sets them apart from the other 435 members of Congress.

It’s common to hear reference to “Congressmen and Senators.” That’s OK… but it technically means all 535 members of Congress and… for some reason… mentioning the 100 members of the upper chamber a second time.

Oh, and you can call me, “Chris” because I work so hard at just being me.

Written by Senator Chris Holbert, a member of the Colorado General Assembly, Senate District 30.

 

 

Civics – Quorum and Passage Requirements

Quorum and Passage Requirements
Explained by State Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert Senate District 30

We’ll likely revisit this topic many times over the next two years, but for now, here’s the text of Colorado General Assembly, Senate Rule 2, Quorum:

(a) A majority of all Senators elected shall constitute a quorum, but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, or for less than a day, and compel the attendance of absent members.

 

House Rule 5 mirrors Senate Rule 2. A simple majority, one more than half the number of all members of that chamber, satisfies the quorum requirement. A minority of members can COMPEL (call, require, force) the other members to return to their respective chamber.

 

Democrats will hold 41 of the 65 state House seats. Thirty-three seats is a simple majority of our state House. If 33 or more of the pending 41 Democrats are present, then a quorum will have been established.

 

Democrats will hold 19 of the 35 state Senate seats. Eighteen seats is a simple majority of our state Senate. If 18 or more of the pending 19 Democrats are present, then a quorum will have been established.

 

The same numbers (33 or more in the House/18 or more in the Senate) are required to pass a bill.

 

There is no filibuster in our state legislature. Members may speak at length, but they MUST speak to the bill. They/we cannot read the Bible or a phone book… unless the bill happens to be about such publications.

 

These are cold, hard, facts about our state legislature, which could only be changed by a vote of a simple majority or more of the members of a respective chamber… which isn’t going to happen. The majority isn’t going to relinquish such power.

 

Please keep these facts in mind and be prepared to share this information with others. I’m sure that there will be opportunities for folks to demand that something be done to stop certain bills that will be considered during the 2019 and 2020 general sessions.

 

As you advocate for or against legislation over the next two years, keep in mind that one party can establish quorum and pass bills completely on its own. In those cases, the only thing that can stop them is them.

 

Colorado General Assembly Math 101:

If five House members aren’t there on a given day, then the number doesn’t decrease to fifty percent, plus one of those in attendance. The number remains fifty percent, plus one of all members ELECTED.

33 or more in the House.

18 or more in the Senate

It doesn’t matter how many aren’t there in the House, it only matters if 33 or more vote “Yes” on that bill.

It doesn’t matter how many aren’t there in the Senate, it only matters if 18 or more vote “Yes” on that bill.

 

 

Civics – First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

FREEDOM OF RELIGION
The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion in two clauses:

The “establishment” clause, which prohibits the government from establishing an official church,
The “free exercise” clause that allows people to worship as they please.

FREEDOMS OF SPEECH AND THE PRESS

What is free speech? The definition is not easy, and the courts have identified three types of free speech, each protected at a different level:

  • Pure speech is the verbal expression of thoughts and opinions before a voluntary audience. The courts have generally provided strong protection of pure speech from government regulation.
  • Speech-plus involves actions, such as demonstrating or protesting, as well as words. Speech-plus is not generally protected as strictly as is pure speech, because actions can be physically dangerous. The courts have ruled that demonstrators may not obstruct traffic, endanger public safety, or trespass illegally.
  • Symbolic speech technically involves no speech at all, but it involves symbols that the courts have judged to be forms of free expression. Symbolic actions such as wearing black armbands in school and draft-card burning fit this category. Symbolic speech is highly controversial, and as a rule, the courts have sometimes considered it to be beyond the limits of free speech. However, the Supreme Court did uphold the right of an individual to burn an American flag in the 1989 Texas vs. Johnson decision.

Many of the same principles that apply to freedom of speech apply to the press, but one with special meaning for the press is prior restraint. The courts have ruled that the government may not censor information before it is written and published, except in the most extreme cases of national security.
The “clear and present danger” test is a basic principle for deciding the limits of free speech. It was set by the famous Schenck v. the United States case from World War I. Antiwar activist Charles Schenck was arrested for sending leaflets to prospective army draftees encouraging them to ignore their draft notices. The United States claimed that Schenck threatened national security, and the justices agreed. The principle was established that free speech would not be protected if an individual were a “clear and present danger” to United States security.
US History.org /gov

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY AND PETITION

Freedom of assembly and petition are closely related to freedom of speech, and have been protected in similar ways. Former Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes wrote, “Peaceable assembly for lawful discussion cannot be made a crime.” Generally, that point of view has prevailed. Freedom of assembly has to be balanced with other people’s rights if it disrupts public order, traffic flow, freedom to go about normal business or peace and quiet. Usually, a group must apply for a permit, but a government must grant a permit provided that officials have the means to prevent major disruptions.
US History.org /gov

Learn More:
Newseum Institutes First Amendment Center

The First Amendment Doesn’t Guarantee You the Rights You think It Does

Ducksters US Government for Kids

US Courts

 

CIVICS – The Role of the Three Branches of Government- by Ben Sasse, Senator from Nebraska

This should be played in every classroom, every year. Ben Sasse, Republican Senator from Nebraska, explains. Watch now.

A wonderful lesson on how our 3 branches of government are supposed to work and the failure of our Legislative Branch to do their job, therefore ceding more authority to the Executive and Judicial.

The Origin of Identity Politics –

Speakeasy Ideas Tom Krannawitter explains in this 10 minute YouTube video, the Origin of Identity Politics.


Thomas Krannawitter, Ph.D.

Description: Cutting edge, progressive social scientists a hundred years ago rejected the idea that all human beings possess the same, equal natural rights to their own person, property, and individual freedom. Instead, progressive academics borrowed from 19th Century European philosophy and held that different groups and races of people evolve at different rates, and therefore have different kinds of rights at different points in evolutionary time, depending on the political “capacity” they had demonstrated. This is the basis of what we call “identity politics” today, the view that different groups of people deserve different kinds of rights. It is the opposite of the idea that equal laws should offer equal protection for equal rights. That is why all free people should reject all laws that divide citizens into groups and offer certain perks and benefits to some at the expense of others. ~Thomas Krannawitter, Ph.D.

Civics – Funding Government

Discretionary spending

Discretionary spending is debated through the annual budget and appropriations process and funds programs such as education, veterans, infrastructure and defense. Discretionary programs equal only 27% of all federal dollars allocated each year when Congress sets the funding priorities. In 2016, close to 16% of the federal budget went to fund the National Defense, so other discretionary spending was only approximately 11% of the$3.85 trillion budget.

Congressman Thomas Massie, from Kentucky, on Government Shutdowns

How does a small faction of Congress take government spending hostage and demand legislation unrelated to the funding bill?

Is this how the funding process is supposed to work?

How do we avoid this in the future?

Why is it important to pass separate appropriation bills for the various portions of the government?

Congressman Thomas Massie answers those questions and more in this short video! (Created, January 22, 2018)

*Congressional Budget Act is 12 separate appropriation bills to determine how to budget the DISCRETIONARY spending from the federal budget.
*Omnibus is one vote on all of them at once, AKA Continuing Resolution (CR)

Automatic Spending

The rest of the federal budget is ‘automatic spending’, meaning deducted from the federal budget through scheduled payments because the government is legally required to do so. Federal “automatic” payments in 2016 constituted approximately 73% of the budget.

Some examples of “automatic” spending are:

Social Security
Medicare
Medicaid
Obamacare (Affordable Care Act)
Income security programs (e.g. SNAP, TANF, Earned Income Tax Credit)
Interest on the national debt

In the chart below, you’ll see the percentage of the budget broken down by each government program that is deemed ‘automatic’.


~ from the Entitlements brief on the Policy Circle website

Additional information on this subject:

Appropriations 101

Appropriations Watch: FY 2019