Glad We Got That Settled

(Jan. 17) – It’s a bill only a lawyer or a linguist could love – but it actually is important.

Must “must” be used in Colorado’s statutes when “a person or thing is required to meet a condition for a consequence to apply”? Shall “shall” mean that “a person has a duty”?

Apparently so, according to the House Judiciary Committee, which voted 11-0 to approve HB13-1029, a bill by Rep. Claire Levy (D-Boulder) entitled, “Concerning the Use of Authority Verbs in the Colorado Revised Statutes.”

Jeffrey Ruebel of the Colorado Defense Lawyers Association testified that “shall” should be used when the legislature wants to impose a duty, e.g., “you shall shovel your sidewalk” obliges the homeowner to remove ice and snow.

Rep. Levy’s co-prime sponsor, Rep. Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs), gave the example of a person who has a ruling go against him. He has no duty to appeal it, but if he decides to appeal he “must” take certain procedural steps.

If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Rep. Gardner, the previous chairman of the Judiciary Committee, got it backwards in his opening remarks and described “must” as the “duty” verb.

Rep. Levy told the new chairman, Rep. Daniel Kagan (D-Cherry Creek Village), that the bill would give guidance to the courts about the legislature’s intent in any legislation approved after this bill is passed. No prior legislation would be affected by the bill.

“We can have a lot of fun with this, and we probably will on the floor, but it actually, I think, will help clarify some things,” Rep. Levy said. “It’s a good bill that will help us do our jobs better.”

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