After a long and arduous legislative session, House Speaker Mark Ferrandino used his unique power over the House calendar to kill one bill – a bill that would have increased the daily fines energy industrial polluters would face if they violated Colorado’s laws and regulations designed to protect our environment.
It is a bit ironic that Ferrandino used the calendar to kill that bill, HB 1267, though he didn’t have a choice if he wanted it dead.
After reasonable amendments were adopted in the Senate, HB 1267 had more than enough Democratic and Republican votes to pass…and therein existed Ferrandino’s problem. If he wanted the bill dead, his only option was to delay action on it and let the end of session kill it for him. Such a move is well within the rules of the House and his prerogative as Speaker, but also the type of decision that has received a great deal of attention over the last year or so.
Some have called Ferrandino a “hypocrite” for employing the same tactic to kill a bill that, only 12 months before, he bemoaned as violating the will of the House.
Though the death of HB 1267 was effected in precisely the same way that a bill of his died last year, I don’t believe Speaker Ferrandino to be a hypocrite. The job of Speaker is challenging and requires these types of calls be made.
My question here is, why do Democrats want to let polluters off the hook?
The curious death of a bill designed to crack down on polluters was a shockingly under-reported development. In a legislative session marked by a radically partisan, and a progressively liberal Democratic agenda, the fact that the House had the chance to adopt, on a bipartisan vote, a bill to help protect the environment is a story in itself.
The saddest part of House Democrats’ refusal to bring this environmental protection bill to a vote is that there is broad agreement that the penalties should be increased. In spiking the bill, Speaker Ferrandino even ignored Governor Hickenlooper’s very public pleas that the bill be brought to a vote and passed.
Governor Hickenlooper’s trusted adviser and chief policy wonk, Alan Salazar, shared that day via Twitter:
“@hickforco EO to direct COGCC to go after serious polluters. Would be even stronger had #coleg passed HB 1267. Disappointing day.”
The translation from Twitter to normal English isn’t always perfect, but here’s my best take on what Mr. Salazar shared: Governor Hickenlooper signed an Executive Order directing the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to go after serious polluters and that COGCC’s ability to do so would have been more effective if the Democrats would have brought up and passed HB 1267.
Yet for some unknown reason, Speaker Ferrandino ran out the clock on this bill, leaving our environmental safety at risk.
For my part, I did ask why the bill was languishing and never received an answer other than “different bills move at different times.” A fair response given the fact that I employed similar response during my time as Speaker of the House. But this wasn’t a run of the mill bill. HB 1267 was directly related to holding accountable those who purposefully or wholly negligently pollute our environment.
On the last day of the 2013 session the House passed 4 bills on Third Reading, passed two conference committee reports, re-passed 14 bills with Senate Amendments, considered 14 Resolutions and laid one bill over at the sponsor’s request. Yet a bill to increase penalties on polluters was left hanging with no action.
Only thing I can figure is this. Speaker Ferrandino knew that if he brought the bill up for action, it would pass. Passing a bill that cracks down on bad actors who pollute our environment takes a political issue away from the Democrats and their radical allies in the shadowy 501(C) world.
I’m equally certain that Ferrandino knew many of us on the GOP side of the aisle would have supported this common sense increase in penalties. Democrats had no political interest in a vote that showed GOP support for cracking down on polluters. A bipartisan vote like that kills their fundraising and is bad for their politics. The Democrats’ political machine needs to keep the issue alive.
Might be good for Democrat politics. Definitely bad for the rest of us and for our environment
Ferrandino and House Democratic leadership have every right to kill a bill on the calendar. They have no right to play politics with our safety. By killing a bill designed to punish polluters, the Democrats missed an opportunity for common sense bipartisan reform and left environmental safeguards hanging in the lurch.
Rep. Frank McNulty was Speaker of the Colorado House for the 68th General Assembly. He represents Highlands Ranch, Colorado.