DENVER– The drive to pass the civil unions bill came to a screeching halt Tuesday – an hour before the midnight deadline – when House Speaker Frank McNulty said legislators had reached an impasse on the divisive measure.
From the gallery, disappointed supporters chanted, “Shame on you!” at McNulty; on the floor, the bill’s sponsor House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino looked devastated as he spoke to his Democrat peers.
Tension over the bill began building over the past week – from enthusiastic proponents holding rallies at the Capitol to angry opponents swamping legislators with emails and phone messages – and erupted on the House floor at the start of the evening session.
Rep. John Kefalas (D-Fort Collins) introduced House Joint Resolution 1020 that ironically called for “civility and respect in the Colorado General Assembly.” After a litany of bi-partisan platitudes by legislators from both sides of the aisle, the resolution passed.
Within seconds the war games began when Ferrandino (D-Denver) objected five times to motions made alternately by House Majority Leader Amy Stephens and Assistant House Majority Leader Mark Waller, both of Colorado Springs, to proceed with consideration of bills out of order.
McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch) hammered the gavel and declared, “The House will stand in recess.” He slammed the gavel again, left the speaker’s podium and marched up to Ferrandino to demand an answer for his behavior.
A few feet away a dispute erupted between Kafalas and Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling). Rep. Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs) stepped in to hold them at bay and the ruckus finally ended when a sergeant of arms intervened.
After the recess, the games continued when Republicans filibustered during the second reading of four bills – none more impassioned and inane than the 90-minute debate over Senate Bill 68 to ban trans fats in public schools, which did finally pass.
While Rep. Mark Barker (R-Colorado Springs) was answering questions on Senate Bill 28, Aggravated Juvenile Offenders, Rep. Claire Levy (D-Boulder) was recognized and moved that the committee rise and report. The House then recessed for two hours.
At that point, Waller and Ferrandino held an impromptu press conference with reporters and film crews on the side of the chamber.
“We’re willing to work with you to figure out a way to make sure that every bill tonight gets an up or down vote on it and I think that’s fair and that’s the Democratic process,” said Ferrandino.
“There’s not time to have a full debate and hearing on every single bill that’s left to be heard in this assembly. There are approximately 30 bills that are left to be heard,” responded Waller.
Waller blamed Senate Democrats for the last minute scramble to hearing SB 2, noting that the had lingered for months it was finally passed and sent to the House in late April.
The bill had been placed on the House calendar after being passed in the House Appropriations Committee that afternoon when Rep. Cheri Gerou (R-Evergreen) had joined Democrats in voting for it.
The committee had amended the bill on a party line vote to exempt private schools and individuals, such as counselors, from having to provide services to clients if it conflicted with personal or religious beliefs.
Ferrandino said he opposed those amendments because “they infuse discrimination into the bill” and vowed “to strip them off” on the House floor or in the Senate.
In order for the bill to become law, it would have had to pass the second reading in the House on Tuesday, and the third reading on Wednesday. The bill would have returned to the Senate, which had approved the bill, for the amendments to either be approved or stripped.
The civil unions bill was not the only bill to run out of time last night. The list of legislative casualties also included the controversial DUI marijuana bill and several water project measures.