GOP-led panel kills civil unions bill

DENVER—A House committee that had not heard a controversial civil unions bill during the regular session killed it Monday when lawmakers returned in a special session.

The outcome came as no surprise to Democrats, who had been trying to force House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, to allow the bill to be debated on the House floor, where there was enough bipartisan support to pass it.

House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, the Denver Democrat who introduced the civil unions bill, said it died because McNulty sent the measure to a committee he knew wouldn’t approve it.

“He talks about this as a divisive issue, but the majority of Coloradans—over 70 percent of Coloradans—support civil unions,” Ferrandino said. “Even 46 percent of Republican state assembly-goers support civil unions. This is not a divisive issue. This is an issue of equality and equal access under the law.”

Before a packed committee room, the GOP-controlled House State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee killed the bill on a 5—4 vote, with Reps. Ray Scott of Grand Junction and Don Coram of Montrose voting with their fellow Republicans against the measure.

Coram said he voted against the measure despite his son being gay, saying he wasn’t convinced Coloradans support it.

Unlike last week when McNulty successfully allowed the civil unions bill to die and dozens of people watching erupted in anger at the outcome, the hundreds of witnesses and spectators at Monday’s hearing left quietly, many saying outside that the GOP lawmakers who voted against the bill were on the wrong side of a civil rights issue.

Repeating himself several times in response to numerous questions from reporters, McNulty said the special session should never have been called, particularly over a social issue such as civil unions.

He said politics was the only reason a special session was called by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“We ought not and we should not be spending time on divisive social issues when unemployment remains far too high, when far too many Coloradans are out of work and when our focus should be on job creation and economic recovery,” McNulty said.

Hickenlooper and Democrats, however, said the session was called because McNulty used his powers as speaker to kill a bill that had bipartisan support in the House and Senate because he personally didn’t like it.

The speaker said Hickenlooper called the special session as part of a national strategy to aid President Barack Obama in his re-election bid, a charge Hickenlooper laughed off. Obama recently came out in support of gay marriage.

McNulty sent the bill to a different committee than he did during the regular session, which ended last week. Then, an identical civil unions bill cleared three House committees. In each, a single Republican joined Democrats in supporting it.

Still, on the second-to-last day of the regular session, McNulty used procedural maneuvers to avoid bringing the bill before the full House. As a result, it died when time ran out for the 120-day session.

On Monday, the speaker said the civil unions bill needed to be dealt with immediately.

“We need to dispense with divisive issues as quickly as possible so that we can get back to the business of the state, which is creating jobs and offering economic opportunity to all of our citizens,” McNulty said.

Ferrandino, however, said McNulty used his power as speaker to thwart the will of a majority of lawmakers in both chambers because he personally opposes civil unions.

“It should have followed the same process that it followed in the regular session, but it’s not following that process because the speaker knows that it would come out of the process and would go to the floor for a full debate,” Ferrandino said. “He sent it to State Affairs, unfortunately his kill committee.”


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