DENVER – A bill to legally recognize civil unions in Colorado may be headed for a quick death at the legislative special session.
House Speaker Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch) opened the session Monday morning by assigning Senate Bill 2 to the State Veterans & Military Affairs Committee — a so-called “kill committee” most believe will vote down the measure.
Last week, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper called for a special meeting of the legislature to address civil unions and other bills which died as a result of procedural delays by House Republicans during the regular legislative session when McNulty ended debate on all bills to prevent a vote on civil unions.
“Last week, he didn’t have enough votes to stop civil unions, so he played procedural games to allow his minority to thwart the majority of the House and of the people of Colorado,” House Democratic Leader Mark Ferrandino said. “Today, he still doesn’t have the votes, so he assigns civil unions to his kill committee.”
Ferrandino estimates that, if the bill got to the full House for a vote, between six and 10 Republicans would vote for it.
The State Veterans & Military Affairs Committee will be the fourth committee to hear the civil unions bill in the House this year.
The Judiciary, Finance and Appropriations committees have all voted in favor of it after Republicans on each panel broke ranks with leadership and voted to support the bill.
McNulty, who told reporters that a majority of special sessions bills are going to the State Veterans and Military Affairs committee to expedite the process so the session can end on Wednesday, focused most of his attacks on Gov. John Hickenlooper, who issued the call for the special session last Thursday.
“This is Gov. Hickenlooper’s special session for the purpose of passing same-sex marriage,” McNulty said, again referring to the civil unions measure by calling it gay marriage. “Our side is focused on economic recovery and helping Colorado families.”
“Not all of them,” muttered Rep. Su Schaffer, D-Aurora, who was listening to McNulty address the media.
“The governor is spending our taxpayer dollars on what’s basically a campaign stunt,” McNulty concluded.
McNulty alleges that Hickenlooper met last week with President Obama’s campaign operatives and that the bill is being driven by Democrats seeking an advantage on the issue heading into the fall election season.
Last week, Hickenlooper laughed off that charge.
In his letter to lawmakers at the outset of the special session, Hickenlooper criticized McNulty for running out the clock on civil unions legislation at the end of the session last week, allowing several other bills to die in order to avoid a vote by the full House on Senate Bill 2.
“Transparency, accountability and the virtues of good government are compromised when the legislative clock is used to avoid consideration of important legislation,” Hickenlooper wrote in the letter. “We owe it to the people we serve to do better.”
McNulty’s decision to send the new civil unions bill straight to his “kill committee” surprised no one at the Capitol, given the lengths he went to kill it last week; however, his handling on the issue is causing fissures in the House GOP caucus, not to mention among Republicans outside the Capitol.
At least six Republican lawmakers have signaled they would vote yes on civil unions if given a chance, and another, Rep. David Balmer, who opposes the bill, is still taking issue with McNulty’s handling of the legislation.
“I will be representing my district by voting ‘no’ on this bill,” Balmer, R-Centennial, wrote Monday in an email to constituents.
“Nevertheless, I do not support abrogating the House Rules to pass or defeat any bill. The House Rules have their underpinnings in our state Constitution. I have served under three Speakers, and I’ve never seen the rules changed to advantage or disadvantage any specific bill.
“I never saw Speaker Romanoff bend the rules, so we much follow the rules now. Bills should proceed to their normal committees of reference.”
Beyond the Capitol, more prominent Republicans — and major GOP donors — are showing their own dissatisfaction with how McNulty is handling the civil unions measure.
Greg Stevinson and Dan Ritchie made a point of attending Monday morning’s rally at the Capitol and standing with supporters of civil unions on the west steps.
“I just want the process to be able to play out,” Stevinson told FOX 31 Denver.