St. Patrick’s Day Massacre in the Colorado Legislature Led to the GAVEL Amendment

In bygone days, the Colorado legislative leaders of both political parties and of both the House and Senate, could control which bills would be considered. One tactic was simply for committee chairs to stuff a bill into a desk drawer before it could be debated and, therefore, “forget” it.

Meeting on St. Patrick’s Day 1987, the tactics of the majority legislative leaders, that included a binding vote that would cut or “massacre” many popular programs from the budget, prompted an outcry for a change from the minority party and groups outside the capitol.

Thanks to Former State Representative Wayne Knox(for 32 years), the League of Women Voters, and wide partisan support, the GAVEL Amendment was approved in the General Election of 1988. GAVEL stands for Give A Vote to Every Legislator.


Although lawmakers of both parties have since devised various other means to kill a bill, thanks to the GAVEL Amendment, Colorado has become a legislative model where, according to Representative Knox:

  1. Any bill brought before either the Colorado House or Senate should have a full hearing and a vote (not stashed in a drawer);
  2. The Rules Committee’s ability to kill a bill by passing it out of committee and to a blocking party leader is eliminated; and
  3. A binding party caucus is eliminated (Legislators have to HEAR the legislation, and then decide a vote, not promise a vote that was decided before the hearing).

By Jane Hamburger – who used the below references in writing this blog.

Sam Brasch and Nathan Heffel. “The Former State Representative Who Changed the Way the Legislature Works.” Colorado Public Radio Colorado Matters, March 8, 2018.


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