Lawmakers avoid standoff, end session
DENVER — Colorado lawmakers averted a special session not long before the 2011 session ended Wednesday evening when House Republicans backed away from a controversial amendment to a routine measure.
A brouhaha began Tuesday when GOP lawmakers tacked an amendment onto an annual rules-review bill, a measure that codifies all of the rules approved by every state agency over the past year. That’s everything from natural-gas-well permits to professional licenses.
Senate Democrats, who control that chamber, opposed the amendment, which revived a GOP measure to benefit payday lenders, imperiling passage of the rules-review bill.
Without the rules-review measure in place, virtually everything state government does would have ceased as of Sunday, the day the 594 rules approved in the past year were set to expire.
As a result, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper threatened to keep lawmakers in the Capitol for an immediate special session.
“In essence what’s happening is a gun is being pointed to our head,” said Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs. “We’re going to send this bill back over to the House, and they get to decide if it was worth putting that amendment on … and forcing a special session that will cost the taxpayers $22,000 a day. Is it really worth $66,000? No. The process has been hijacked.”
The catalyst for the last-second amendment began earlier in the session when Republicans introduced a bill to reverse a law approved last year restricting how much in fees payday lenders can charge. Though the bill cleared the House, a Senate committee killed it last week.
Instead of accepting that, or trying again with a new bill, Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, got the GOP-controlled House to tack an amendment onto the rules-review bill, which already had cleared the Senate. The amendment would have allowed payday lenders to keep all of an origination fee they charge on loans.
Under legislative rules, when changes are made to a measure in one chamber, the other has the option of accepting them or sticking to their original version of the bill. A bill automatically dies if the two chambers don’t agree on the same version of the bill.
Senate Republicans tried to argue there was nothing wrong with what House Republicans did to the review bill, and it wasn’t worth risking killing the bill as a result.
“It is utter, inconsistent hogwash to say … this is a perversion of the rule-review bill,” said Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield. “Anyone crying now that this is a perversion of the process is making it up because they don’t like the result.”
His arguments didn’t work. The Senate voted 21–14 to adhere to its position, rejecting the amended version and sending it back to the House. Only one Republican, Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango, joined the 20 Democrats in the Senate rejecting the idea.
It came, then, to the House to decide if it would back off or stick to the payday amendment and force a special session.
In a face-saving move, House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, said he continued to believe payday lenders needed money from the fees to hire more workers, but he agreed to withdraw the amendment to prevent a special session.
“I continue to share the opinion of many … that jobs will be lost, families will be hurt,” McNulty said. “At this time, there is not much we can do about that.”
The measure passed unanimously without the amendment.
Other measures the Legislature approved on the final day of the session included a bill to revamp some of last year’s medical marijuana laws and a measure designed to cut down on bullying in schools.
Bills that died on the final day include a measure introduced by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, to allow small entrepreneurs to use their home kitchens to prepare food products meant for local sale.
Lawmakers also approved a bill to allow a tax-amnesty period this summer, but killed a proposed ballot question to make it harder to amend the state’s Constitution.
Despite the tumultuous end, some lawmakers said it still was a successful session.
“We passed a bunch of good bills to help small businesses grow,” said House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo. “There were hundreds of bills passed this session with bipartisan support.”