Special legislative session for civil unions to open Monday

Pro-civil unions rally at Colorado State Capitol. May 8, 2012.

Pro-civil unions rally at Colorado State Capitol. May 8, 2012.

DENVER – A special session of the Colorado Legislature will open on Monday for lawmakers to consider a civil unions bill and six other measures that were not considered before the legislative session ended Wednesday.

“We need to have an open discussion of the issue and at least work toward a final resolution,” Gov. Hickenlooper said. “We (will) allow people a chance to vote on it, and move forward.”

But House Speaker Frank McNulty, who ended debate on all bills Tuesday night just to run out the clock on civil unions, is viewing the special session as “a reset”, hinting that he could change committee assignments in order to kill the bill before it can arrive on the House floor.

“This is a complete reset,” McNulty said. “On where bills are assigned and what committees look like.”

Translation: McNulty is likely to assign the civil unions measure to the House State Affairs Committee, where lawmakers are likely to vote it down, or to form a special select committee that can be stacked with lawmakers all willing to vote against the bill.

“I don’t want to speculate on what he’s going to do,” Hickenlooper said, when asked about that potential scenario Thursday afternoon.

When GOP leadership halted debate Tuesday night in order to prevent a vote on the civil unions bill, they effectively killed 30 other bills scheduled to be debated. Among those bills is a $20 million water project essential to rural communities in light of the extremely dry winter.

That bill will be among seven lawmakers are tasked to take up starting Monday following Hickenlooper’s official order that he signed Thursday afternoon.

At a press conference Thursday, Hickenlooper laughed off McNulty’s accusation that he’s calling the session for political reasons — and the charge that he was adding other bills to the special session to provide cover for calling a session that otherwise would have only focused on civil unions.

“There was good legislation that did not pass out of the General Assembly for one reason or another, ” Hickenlooper wrote in the order, declaring he wants to limit the agenda to legislation that had bipartisan support but didn’t receive a fair vote — basically, civil unions and the other bills that were lost on Tuesday night when House Speaker Frank McNulty put the House in recess in order to avoid a vote on civil unions.

“Everything that happened was within the rules,” Hickenlooper said Wednesday. “It certainly wasn’t the outcome I hoped for or many people expected, but I’m not going to criticize the process.”

Speaking about his former restaurant employees who are gay and lacking equal rights, Hickenlooper got choked up as he began his press conference in a crowded west foyer of the Capitol.

“A lot of the people who helped us create that business didn’t have the same rights as everybody else,” Hickenlooper said. “I had a call yesterday from one of them, who asked ‘If not now, when?'”

In giving lawmakers more time, Hickenlooper effectively neutralizes what’s been the Republican’s primary complaint, that there wasn’t enough time to debate civil unions, even though there was.

But there’s no guarantee another try to get the civil unions measure to the House floor for a vote will be successful.

Speaker Frank McNulty, who referred to the legislation by calling it “gay marriage” several times during interviews on Wednesday and again Thursday, isn’t sounding like someone who’s ready to back down.

“The consideration of legislation during that special session is again left to members of the state House and Senate — and we take that obligation as seriously in a special session as we do in a regular session,” McNulty said.

Privately, some supporters of the bill are annoyed at Hickenlooper for calling the special session and, perhaps, allowing McNulty a do-over ahead of a critical election while risking a possible ebb in now-cresting public support for civil unions if the public decides that a special session over civil unions isn’t worth the $23,500 it’ll cost taxpayers per day.


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