Colorado lawmakers enter busy, bitter final three-week stretch

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DENVER — Whatever bipartisan good will that may have existed at the outset of this year’s legislative session is long gone as lawmakers enter its final three weeks.

There’s still a ton of work to be done — enough that lawmakers may have to work through the coming weekend — and both sides are, predictably, blaming the other side of the aisle for the predicament.

All week, the House GOP minority has been complaining aloud that the backlog is the result of Democrats introducing too many controversial bills and not running the floor debates efficiently.

Meanwhile, Democrats, who hold a 37-28 majority in the House, note that Republicans are needlessly dragging those debates out, arguing for hours against bills that are certain to eventually pass.

Yes, it’s just as childish as it sounds — and emblematic of a increasingly polarized political environment and the disappearing political middle, both at the Colorado statehouse and in American politics generally.

On Wednesday, lawmakers spent 10 hours on the floor — debating just three bills.

The first debate, on a Democratic proposal to expand legal protections for people facing discrimination in the workplace, lasted for six hours as Republicans went to the well again and again to argue that the bill is anti-business and a boon to trial lawyers.

Republicans brought more than a dozen amendments, including one to rename House Bill 1136 the “Trial Lawyers Employment Act”, simply to make political points and drive their Democratic colleagues nuts.

They accomplished that goal before the bill’s passage on a second reading voice vote, which was never in doubt.

“As former minority whip, I certainly appreciate the minority’s right to vigorously debate and stand up for one’s ideals. But there is a difference between having a thorough debate than purposely filibustering and obstructing the work of the House,” said Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder.

“We went on the floor today at 9:00 a.m., and by 5:00 p.m. two bills had passed. The Republicans insisted on belaboring the same points for hours on end and bringing multiple amendments that mocked the process and the people that are discriminated against, including women, minorities and the LGBT community.”

By 8 p.m., lawmakers had given initial approval to two other Democratic proposals: Senate Bill 25, which could expand collective bargaining rights for Colorado firefighters; and House Bill 1293, which would establish a climate change czar within the governor’s office.

Republicans insist, they’re not just stalling for sport — they actually hate the Democratic proposals.

“Democrats continue to introduce some of their most contentious and
divisive bills in the final few weeks of session,” said Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, in a statement to FOX31 Denver.

“In this month alone, Democrats have introduced more than 25 new bills — more than two months past the final introduction deadline. They’re trying to jam some of the most
polarizing bills we’ve seen this year through the legislative process with
as little debate as possible.”

Among the most controversial of the late Democratic bills introduced is a sweeping overhaul of Colorado election law that could bring about same-day registration; two of the Democratic gun control proposals are still awaiting a final debate on the House floor; and Democrats may introduce an omnibus bill to deal with the implementation of Amendment 64 before week’s end.

“Ensuring we’ve made every effort to resolve the concerns these bills present to our state’s struggling families and business owners is a responsibility House Republicans take very seriously.”

It’s no wonder Republicans are frustrated with all the Democratic bills. Unlike last year, with split control of the two legislative chambers, far fewer bills survived partisan committee hearings and made it to the floor.

This year, with Democrats controlling both the House and Senate, nearly all of their bills are alive at session’s end; and Republicans have little left to do but to argue against them.

In another shot across the bow, Democrats, holding comfortable majorities, say they’re just letting the legislative process play out, alluding not so subtly to the end of last year’s session when House Republican leadership halted floor debate on 30 bills to run out the clock on a civil unions bill that would have passed had it come up.

“We have work to do and yes, some of it is controversial,” Hullinghorst said. “But we will be as diligent as possible in these last few weeks. I would hope we don’t see the same shenanigans that we saw last year from the GOP, and hope moving forward, they will start respecting that process.”

The legislative session must end by midnight on May 9.

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