Civil unions, ASSET bills begin anticlimactic victory march

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DENVER -- Starting Wednesday, state lawmakers will begin the first hearings on two controversial pieces of legislation that arguably have created the most intrigue and headlines of the last few legislative sessions, measures to legalize same-sex civil unions and to reduce college tuition for undocumented students.

And even before the initial hearings are underway, the drama is all but gone.

You can follow the hearing by reading tweets from FOX31 Denver reporter Eli Stokols

Last year, the fight over civil unions was a dramatic battle, as three GOP lawmakers, in three successive hearings, broke ranks and allowed the legislation to make it to the House floor, forcing former Speaker Frank McNulty into a difficult spot.

McNulty's ultimate decision to shut down floor debate on the session's last day, a last resort and the only way to deny the measure a vote before the full House, cost him his majority.

This year, with the bill's sponsor, Speaker Mark Ferrandino, having taken McNulty's gavel, the legislative process around civil unions is suddenly anticlimactic. The gay and lesbian couples who will return to the Capitol to tell their stories will know that they can now do so without any worry that the legislation's fate is hanging in the balance and, perhaps, on their ability to tug at the heartstrings of conservative lawmakers.

But that won't make the ultimate passage of Senate Bill 11 any less sweet.

"Committed gay and lesbian couples in the state have been waiting for years -- 10, 20, even 40 years -- to have their relationships protected," said One Colorado's Brad Clark. "It's well past time that these families have equal protection under the law.

"To be sure, the results of November's election were a watershed moment, but we're taking nothing for granted. Opponents of civil unions will stop at nothing to try and derail this legislation -- as we saw in the waning days of the last legislative session. We're continuing to organize and lobby and educate the public about the importance of civil unions, and our community will be there at the Capitol to voice our support for the bill every step of the way.

"Our community isn't advocating for civil unions in order to achieve some historic victory for Colorado. We're advocating for our families -- for the couples that have been together 40 years, for the kids whose parents aren't treated equally in the eyes of the law, for the gay student who finally sees his government recognizing who he is. That's what we're fighting for."

ASSET backers also anticipate bill's passage

The same anticipation and excitement is palpable among the dozens of Hispanic activists and undocumented high school students who have come to the Capitol so many times to tell lawmakers about their dreams of one day attending college, only to watch as Republican lawmakers, sometimes with Democrats assisting them, voted down measures aimed at making college tuition more affordable.

Last week, as supporters gathered inside the Capitol's west foyer to outline changes to the legislation, which will offer undocumented students full in-state tuition, what was ostensibly a press conference became the first of many celebrations.

The remarks from a host of supporters and lawmakers had the air of valediction, with the end of this fight now just a handful of hearings and votes away.

"This May, I will not go back to high schools in my district or any other district in this state that I'm sorry because the diploma that I'm handing them can't secure you work," said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, a former principal who's sponsoring the ASSET legislation for a third straight year.

"This May, I will not go back to high schools in my district or any other district in this state that I'm sorry because the diploma that I'm handing them can't secure you work. This time I want us to be there in May to see those kids in caps and gowns at graduations and given them a big hug and say congratulations, the world is wide open."