14 May 2012


The Colorado General Assembly is back for its first day of the 2012 special session called by Governor Hickenlooper after the Republican state house majority went into recess for the last few hours of May 8, 2012 (the last day before the end of the regular session and deadline for passage of bills on second reading), in order to kill a civil unions bill that had cleared three committees and had the votes to pass on the floor of the house, and took dozens of other bills down with it.

The special session will consider civil unions and several other topics related to bills that died as a result of that procedural move.  The other six issues before the Colorado General Assembly in the special session, in addition to civil unions are:

• Funding $55 million in water projects.
• Penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
• Stabilizing unemployment-insurance rates.
• Creating "benefit corporations" in Colorado.
• Registering "special mobile machinery fleets."
• Asking voters to amend the state constitution by repealing provisions deemed obsolete, including a measure that barred local governments from prohibiting discrimination against gays [this was held unconstitutional in the U.S. Supreme Court case Romer v. Evans].
Bills relating to a variety of interim study committees and related to the management of public schools were not revived for special session consideration.

All of the bills were heading for passage at the end of the session.  Bills without a prayer don't clear one of the two houses of the bicameral state legislature and all of the committees that they come before in the other house and don't head to the full house for a vote on a day when they can still be considered for passage.  And, Governors don't bring legislation that they would like to veto up for reconsideration in a special session.

The trouble is that the process does start over in the special session.  There is a clean slate and the special session, while restricted to the seven topics on the agenda, otherwise employs the same process used in a regular session of the general assembly. 

The leadership of the state house, knowing precisely which 37 legislators were ready to vote for civil unions a week earlier, could tinker with the process in some way that sends a civil unions bill to a "kill committee" preventing it from making it to the House floor where it would pass.  But, rejiggering  committee assignments or changing the committees that a bill must clear to pass, would make the state house Republican leadership look even dirtier than it already does going into an election. [UPDATE 5-14-12: Republicans have indeed done just that and may kill the civil unions bill in a committee it was not required to clear in the general session as soon as this afternoon (see also here)].

The special session also postpones the point in the political season when Republican are able to talk about their own agenda, instead of one that the Governor have given them to address, less than five months from the point in time at which votes will start to be cast in Colorado by mail and at early voting centers in a Presidential election year where increased voter turnout already puts Republicans at a disadvantage.  And, it only takes a little shift in public opinion for the state house to move from being controlled by Republicans 33-32, to being controlled by Democrats who manage to also hold onto the state senate where Democrats already have a safe majority and only half of the seats are up for reconsideration in November.  There are no indications that Republicans gained any real advantage in state legislative redistricting based on the 2010 census that takes effect this year.  Indeed, judging by the fact that the Republicans tried to have the map that was adopted overturned in Court, it is fair to say that redistricting gave Democrats a slight edge at the state level.

Put all of that, and the fact that public opinion is slowly but surely shifting in favor of civil unions in Colorado, and any win that Republicans manage to secure on civil unions in the special session, if they can manage it at all, has a good chance of being reversed in 2013.

UPDATE May 14, 2012:

So far, according to the Colorado General Assembly website, the following eleven bills have been introduced in the Special Session which began today:

*HB12S-1001 Water Conservation Bd Construction Fund Projects BAUMGARDNER--(NONE)
*HB12S-1002 Unempl Ins Revenue Bonds LISTON & ...--JAHN
*HB12S-1003 Special Mobile Machinery Registration Fees BRADFORD--(NONE)
*HB12S-1004 Medical Marijuana Fund Transfer MCCANN--(NONE)
*HB12S-1005 Penalties For DUIs Involving Drugs WALLER & ...--KING S.
*HB12S-1006 Authorization Of Civil Unions FERRANDINO--STEADMAN
*HB12S-1007 Benefit Corporations LEVY--ROBERTS
*SB12S-001 Registration Fees Special Mobile Machinery CADMAN--(NONE)
*SB12S-002 Water Conservation Bd Construction Fund Projects SCHWARTZ--SONNENBERG
*SB12S-003 Benefit Corporations BACON--MASSEY
*SCR12S-001 Repeal Unconstitutional Provisions State Const STEADMAN--FERRANDINO

Strategically, the notable issue is that the Civil Unions bill has been introduced first in the State House, rather than the State Senate, preventing any impediments to passage put in the way of the bill to be brought up at the last minute as they were in the regular session. Three of the subjects for consideration (water projects, mobile machinery, and benefit corporatioons) were introduced in parallel versions in both houses of the Colorado general assembly. Unemployment, Civil Unions and the two marijuana bills have no house counterpart. The constitutional amendment proposal was introduced in the state senate and lacks a house counterpart.

UPDATE TWO May 14, 2012: The House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee has killed civil unions by a party line 5-4 vote, despite the fact that it is supported by a majority of members in that chamber. Republican Rep. Don Coram, whose son is gay even betrayed his son to vote the party line against the bill.

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