Political text-to-speech

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News from the laboratories of democracy — Anna Staver, "Computers zip through 2,000-page bill after Senate Republican forces its reading", Denver Post 3/11/2019:

All work in the Colorado Senate came to halt Monday morning thanks to a procedural maneuver invoked by a ranking Republican.

Committee hearings, floor debates and votes were all delayed as House Bill 1172 — a 2,000-page bill revising Title 12 of the Colorado Revised Statutes — was read in its entirety.

“I’m just following the rules,” Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, said with a smile when asked about his request to read the whole bill. “We keep saying we want things slowed down, and this is the only thing we have in our arsenal.”

What Cooke wanted to slow down was the hearings and votes on the death penalty and oil and gas bills. He said he talked with Democratic leadership last week about delaying the oil and gas hearing but that he was dismissed.

Some estimated it would take 60 hours for a human to read the bill, but Monday afternoon Democrats used a maneuver of their own to cut that time drastically: After a Senate staffer read for three hours, they brought in five computers to read the bill simultaneously at a speed far faster than humans can understand.


The computers take over at about 3:21:43 and finish at about 7:40:10.

[h/t Dmitri Ostrovsky]


  1. Philip Taylor said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 5:33 am

    Sigh. And I thought that our (British) parliament was bad …

    But just as a point of interest (and as an outsider), are they seeking to delay debate on the death penalty because they want to keep on executing people or because they don't want to risk having to execute someone ?

  2. unekdoud said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 6:31 am

    They could have halved that time again by machine-translating the whole thing to Chinese. (/s)

  3. mistah charley, ph.d. said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 8:01 am

    As has been said, "The letter kills, but the spirit gives life." Would the claim that the procedure that was implemented actually corresponds to the rules survive a court challenge? If so, then dead literalism has taken over the courts as well.

  4. Anthony said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 8:23 am

    Or to Latin.

  5. IMarvinTPA said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 9:53 am

    I would like it if all bills were required to be read in full before being voted on. At a human pace. All legislators must be present and attempting to listen to the reading for at least 90% of the reading to be eligible to vote. This is to ensure that "everybody has read the contract before signing". If there is an emergency, write a short bill.

  6. Gregory Kusnick said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 10:30 am

    Philip: I'm not familiar with the specifics of Colorado politics, but Republicans as a rule favor the death penalty, not necessarily because they want to execute people. Rather, retributive justice is a key component of conservative ideology in the US, so Republican lawmakers are more or less obliged to defend the death penalty (e.g. by obstructing Democratic efforts to abolish it) lest they appear "soft on crime" to their constituents.

  7. Philip Taylor said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 10:33 am

    Thank you Gregory — depressing but understood.

  8. Jonathan said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 2:03 pm

    It's a revision of existing law. Can't they just read out the diff's?

  9. Q. Pheevr said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 2:15 pm

    This reminds me a bit of Tibetan prayer wheels. The words just need to be uttered (in some sense); they don’t have to be heard or understood.

  10. CuConnacht said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 4:53 pm

    MistahCharley, a court is highly unlikely to involve itself in the internal procedures of a house of the legislature. The courts would most likely defer to the opinion of the presiding officer of the house or whoever else decided that this procedure was acceptable.

  11. Chris C. said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 6:31 pm

    @CuConnacht — I'd have said the same thing, and Colorado's constitution seems to grant the legislature sole authority over its proceedings. However, https://www.cpr.org/news/story/judge-gives-temporary-victory-to-senate-gop-stalling-tactic

  12. Andrew Usher said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 9:04 pm

    I don't know about the court intervention, but surely no one could defend this use of computers as reasonable; perhaps one computer substituting for a human reader would be, though. One could say it's the Repulicans that are being unreasonable to making this request, but then one could step back again and say the Democrats are by not giving a fair hearing to the oil-and-gas bill (the one that really matters). And, in any case, such a rule invites abuse: either all regular bills should be read, or none of them.

    Jonathan's idea is good: that's what people would be really interested in hearing, anyway, if at all.

    Since someone else brought it up, let me say that the death penalty is one of the most worthless political issues there is: the way it's used, it makes no practical difference, and it's just used as a weapon by both sides instead of (hopefully) talking about more important matters involving criminal justice. For that reason alone, I'd support its abolition.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  13. Joshua K. said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 9:38 pm

    Why would they have five computers reading the bill simultaneously?

  14. Q. Pheevr said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 9:54 pm

    Presumably because they couldn’t get six.

  15. eub said,

    March 12, 2019 @ 10:32 pm

    Does it work if they translate to a synthetic language with s language that means exactly this bill's text?

  16. Yerushalmi said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 3:15 am

    @Joshua K.:

    I would imagine that they divided the bill into five parts and had each computer read a different part. Ain't no law that says the law has to be read from beginning to end in that order.

    And, as Q. Pheevr said, they presumably couldn't get six.

  17. Viseguy said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 8:01 pm

    This is cheating. Next thing you know we'll have TTS filibusters and where would that leave Western Civilization? Not to mention the disrespect for Wendy Davis.

  18. Andrew John said,

    March 17, 2019 @ 6:45 pm

    @Pheevr And we know what happens if you bring in computers for that task:

  19. Jenny Chu said,

    March 17, 2019 @ 6:59 pm

    @Andrew John, thank you so much for bringing that up! It was exactly the reference I was searching for when the comment about prayer wheels came up, but couldn't bring to mind the exact title of the story.

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