Unfinished business at Capitol
DENVER—At the end of last year’s session, Rep. Mark Ferrandino was able to take control of the Colorado House for a brief moment.
The Denver Democrat was able to do that when then-House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, was using parliamentary procedures to kill a civil unions bill for same-sex couples because he didn’t have the actual votes to defeat it.
Fast-forward to Wednesday, the first day of the 2013 legislative session, when Ferrandino took over officially, becoming the first openly gay speaker of the Colorado House.
It won’t be long, he said, before a civil unions bill will become law.
“One of my favorite authors, Ayn Rand, wrote, ‘The political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities,’” Ferrandino said in his opening day speech. “In that spirit, we must acknowledge that all committed couples deserve equal protection under the law, forever end Colorado’s ‘hate state’ nickname, and, with bipartisan support, pass civil unions this year.”
A measure to do that was among those introduced on the first day of the session, and it’s highly expected to pass and be signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat.
The measure, SB11, includes all 20 Democrats in the Senate and all 37 Democrats in the House as co-sponsors.
It even has one Republican on that list, Rep. Cheri Gerou of Evergreen.
Last year, a similar measure cleared the Senate with 20 Democrats and four Republicans, but died in the 65-member House even though four to five Republicans were ready to vote with the then 32 Democrats to pass it there.
Instead, McNulty used the power of his office to delay all action on the House floor, killing the civil unions bill and about 30 other important measures, such as Sen. Steve King’s driving-while-stoned measure.
Gun rights protests
Inside the Capitol building, legislative leaders talked about controversial measures lawmakers are expected to debate this year, including gun control.
“The Second Amendment is sacrosanct, but so is the First,” Ferrandino said. “It is our right, and the time is right, to speak openly and honestly about how we can curb the gun violence that costs our communities far too many sons and daughters. We have to seek consensus about how to prevent more horrors like the shootings in Aurora and Newtown.”
Meanwhile, outside the gold-domed building, gun-rights advocates loudly protested against measures limiting firearms or access to them, including one holding a large hand-made sign that read: “Arm Teachers. Disarm Baby Killer-In-Chief Obama.”
While no gun-control measure has been introduced yet, three Republican lawmakers did introduce a bill on the first day of the session to give local school boards the authority to allow conceal-carry handguns on school property.
Though he hasn’t introduced it yet, King is expected to introduce a bill to help fund school resource officers in every school that wants one.
Still, Democrats are expected to introduce measures that could limit access to assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.
At the same time, they plan to increase funding for mental health programs by about $18 million, some of which would be designed to catch troubled would-be shooters long before they reach that stage.
Not all bills introduced on opening day were related to guns or attempts at being bipartisan.
Among the 101 bills introduced includes a measure by Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, to give firefighters collective bargaining rights. It’s similar to a measure she introduced in 2009, the last time the Democrats controlled both chambers of the Legislature. It landed on the governor’s desk, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat.
Rep. Stephen Humphrey, a freshman Republican from Severance in Weld County, introduced a bill to ban abortions, while Rep. Janak Joshi, R-Colorado Springs, has a bill to allow prosecutors to file charges for offenses against an unborn child. That’s similar to a bill that former Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran, introduced a few years ago.
Today, lawmakers will gather in the House to hear Hickenlooper’s third State-of-the-State speech. He is expected to discuss gun measures, civil unions, mental health issues and economic development.