DENVER – Republican lawmakers revolted after House Appropriations Committee Chair Crisanta Duran (D-Denver) changed the rules midway through the session to ban testimony by witnesses and curb questions and amendments proposed by committee members on spending bills.
“Once again as we experienced last year – and as resulted in recalls and a resignation in the other chamber – the majority has chosen to use the rules and its discretion in an unbridled way to silence the minority,” Rep. Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs) said after the hearing.
Gardner warned that Duran’s new rules inflict the same “tyranny” wielded by the Democrat-controlled legislature last year that rammed through liberal bills, particularly gun-control measures, over the objections of Republican legislators and voters, many of whom were denied the right to testify during hearings.
Voters retaliated then by recalling Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo, and forcing the resignation of Sen. Evie Hudak of Westminster.
Duran cited time constraints as the reason for imposing the new rules to limit debate, and said only questions and amendments related to the fiscal impact of a bill would be allowed.
However, Duran enforced the stricter rules for some bills but not others and used her power to slap down motions made by Republican lawmakers.
“It’s out of order!” Duran declared repeatedly.
Republicans argued their motions to amend or layover bills were “in order” and should have been allowed an up or down vote by the committee.
“Anybody can make a motion at any time, however, it is the chair’s discretion to determine whether or not a conceptual amendment can go forward,” said Duran, who added that the committee needed to step up the pace because of the increasing number of spending bills.
In her rush, Duran moved several bills before sponsors could even introduce the measures or committee members could ask questions or propose amendments.
She hastily moved a bill to set rules for the issuance of travel insurance policies, and then refused to entertain an amendment proposed by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) who questioned the fiscal note.
Duran ruled that Sonnenberg’s motion was out of order because his amendment had nothing to do with appropriations – and that violated the chair’s new rules.
“It’s absolutely a fiscal note issue,” protested Sonnenberg, who added that he likes the bill but objects to granting $8,848 to the Division of Insurance, which has ample funding to perform the simple task of making rules.
“In my view it’s extortion,” Sonnenberg said.
Duran thundered in response: “I’m deciding right now, the conceptual amendment is out of order!”
Duran then chided Sonnenberg for proposing an amendment without having first consulted with legislative staff or the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp (D-Arvada).
“I would hope that we would be as efficient as possible, and as chair, I will rule motions are out of order if they’re going to delay the time to get the bill through,” Duran said.
Gardner said that he has no illusions about the committee chair’s power, but if “it extends to the chair doing whatever the chair wishes to do at the whim of the chair, then there are no rules.”
Without rules, Gardner said, “there is nothing but tyranny of the majority. There is nothing but abusive discretion. There is nothing but silencing those of us who represent other Coloradans.”