DENVER — Democrats in the Colorado House may not like it, but GOP senators are planning to make changes to a bill today that would reauthorize the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
While House Democrats say the seven-member commission is functioning just fine, Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, plans to make a few changes to HB1256 when the Senate Judiciary Commission reviews it this afternoon, including adding an eighth member.
Gardner said he doesn't believe the commission is balanced enough, not only in who sits on the panel, but how it conducts its business, which is to enforce the state's anti-discrimination laws and hear specific cases on such things as employment and housing discrimination.
"There's a sense in the business community that the commission is complainant-oriented to the point that they're not getting equitable hearings," Gardner said. "The idea is to create a commission that is broad in its spectrum and in its representation. It is a politically appointed commission, so having voices from across the spectrum is important."
Currently, the panel has three Democrats, two unaffiliated voters and one Republican. The seventh seat has not been filled.
Under current rules, the governor appoints all seven members, at least four of which must be from groups that have been discriminated against for such things as race or sexual orientation. Two current board members are required to represent business, and Gardner's amendment doesn't change that, but it does add a labor representative.
The senator also wants to spread the appointment process around the Capitol, giving the House speaker and Senate president appointment duties, but only if they are from the opposing party of whomever is governor. Otherwise, the minority leaders in the two chambers would make some of the appointments.
Another change would be to allow either party in a civil rights dispute to opt to have their case heard in district court rather than by an administrative law judge appointed by the commission.
It's unknown just how Democrats will greet Gardner's changes, but House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Denver Democrat who introduced the bill with Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, has repeatedly said the panel is operating fine and alterations aren't needed.
"We have a long and effective history in the Colorado Civil Rights Division," Herod said. "It's been around since 1951, and has effectively advocated for those who have been discriminated against. For people of color, for LGBT people, for low-income people, the (division) and the commission ... is not something we can place in jeopardy or play political games with."