Gov.‘s woodshed call ended ugly session

It took the threat of a public spanking from the governor, but legislative leaders finally acted a little like grown-ups Wednesday to wrap up an extremely disappointing 2011 legislative session.

We wish Gov. John Hickenlooper had challenged lawmakers earlier. Perhaps then they might have actually met their constitutional responsibility to establish new congressional districts for the state. Instead, that issue is headed to court.

It was House Republicans who acted most like juveniles Wednesday. They attached a last-minute amendment about payday loans to the annual rules-review bill that codifies all of the rules adopted by state agencies in the past year. Then they dared Democrats in the Senate to reject the amendment.

If the rules-review bill isn’t passed, all the new state rules would be in limbo. Hickenlooper called party leaders to his office Wednesday evening and told them he was prepared to order a special session of the Legislature today if they didn’t pass the rules bill.

Republicans, supposedly fiscal conservatives, thought better about forcing a special session that would have cost taxpayers at least $22,000 a day. They capitulated and withdrew the payday loan amendment. That was appropriate. It had no business being in the procedural rules bill in the first place.

But Republicans weren’t alone in turning this legislative session into a political kindergarten.

The personal animosity between House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch and Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, contributed greatly to the intensely partisan atmosphere.

We’ve made clear our objections to Democratic efforts on redistricting. And it was Democrats under Shaffer who kept bottled up a measure that would have made it more difficult to amend the state Constitution. It had broad bipartisan support and had passed both houses, with minor amendments. It had languished in a Senate committee since March, and died on Wednesday.

Republicans, for their part, nearly killed a sensible bill to establish state health insurance exchanges rather than allow federal officials to do it for Colorado. Democrats salvaged that needed bill.

There were some accomplishments in the 2011 legislative session. Passing an $18 billion state budget, with difficult cuts in tough economic times, was surely one of them. From a parochial perspective, we appreciate how quickly lawmakers approved the name change for Mesa State — er, Colorado Mesa University.

Critical achievements also came in killing bad legislation. That included a bill to eliminate the need for a permit and training to carry a concealed weapon, one that would have created an Arizona-style immigration law, and another to significantly change the makeup of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

But, all in all, it was one of the least productive, most bitter legislative sessions we can recall. People throughout Colorado should remember those lawmakers who helped make it that way come Election Day.


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