Time runs out at Capitol for civil unions bill
DENVER — Not long after the Colorado House approved a resolution Tuesday calling for civility in the Legislature, all civility went out the window over a bill to create civil unions for same-sex couples.
Although there were enough votes to pass the measure before a midnight deadline, House Republican leaders who opposed the bill did not allow that vote to occur, killing 36 other bills in the process.
“We have reached an impasse ... and it is unfortunate there will be items that do not receive consideration,” said House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, prompting visitors in the gallery to shout down at the speaker, demanding that vote.
Accusing GOP leaders who control the House of using delay tactics to prevent a vote on Senate Bill 2 before the midnight deadline on the second-to-last day of the 2012 session, Democrats, with help from two Republicans, prevented the chamber from doing anything until the bill was placed on the calendar.
The GOP controls the 65-member House by one vote, but at least five Republicans said they would vote for civil unions. Three already have in the three House committees it’s gone through. Most bills only see two committees.
After about a half dozen procedural votes to start floor debate without SB2 on the calendar, which the Democrats blocked each time, McNulty angrily slammed his gavel and stomped across the House floor toward House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, the openly gay Denver Democrat who is sponsoring the civil unions bill.
“Are you going to block all the work of the House?” McNulty shouted twice.
After that dramatic confrontation and another just off the floor minutes later, McNulty agreed to calendar the bill.
“It’s been proven that the speaker doesn’t want this bill to go forward,” Ferrandino said. “It’s proven that we have the votes to pass it.”
Republicans then spent the next few hours filibustering, talking endlessly about bills that had little opposition, including one to ban trans fats in school lunches.
That’s when the Democrats used another parliamentary maneuver to end debate on remaining measures, which caused the Republicans to recess for several hours.
Ferrandino said they did that to end the Republican filibuster, and again called on McNulty to bring up the civil union bill.
He said Gov. John Hickenlooper had been contacting Republican leaders, including McNulty, to bring the bill up for a vote. He refused.
In an impromptu press conference on the House floor, Ferrandino said there was plenty of time to debate that bill and all others before the deadline.
That’s when Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, interrupted, saying the Democrats were playing games with House rules. He questioned why the Democrats in the Senate took so long to get the bill to the House.
Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, another openly gay lawmaker who introduced the bill with Ferrandino, said he did that at the request of House Republican leaders, who didn’t want the bill in the House until after the Colorado Republican Party State Assembly in mid-April.
“They brought this on themselves,” Steadman said. “They have brought dishonor and ill repute to this House.”
The to-do also resulted in the death of several other bills, including measures to set a limit on being too stoned to drive, allowing schools to lower no-tolerance policies and about $20 million in water projects.
Earlier in the day, after gay-rights supporters rallied on the steps of the Colorado Capitol, several stayed for hours awaiting debate when the bill came before the House Appropriations Committee.
There, Republicans who control that 13-member panel, spent several hours debating bills that have no chance of getting out of the Legislature.
That included a measure to require companies to use the federal e-verify system to check for illegal immigrants, and a bill to withhold severance taxes from local governments that delay oil and gas drilling, which had already been turned into a study.
Both measures are House bills and because today is the final day of the 2012 session, by rule they can’t get the needed hearings in both chambers to pass.
Those delays frustrated Democrats on the committee, who accused Republicans of purposely trying to kill the bill by delaying it past the midnight deadline, which it needed before a final vote could be held today.
The committee also tacked several amendments onto the bill that Ferrandino said would allow people who personally object to homosexuality to discriminate against same-sex couples in civil unions.
Democrats had planned to strip off those amendments, saying they would have made the bill unconstitutional.
Last week, the Senate approved the measure 23-12, with three Republicans — the only three GOP women senators — joining Democrats in approving it.