DENVER – House Republicans backed down Wednesday in a game of chicken they started for the benefit of payday lenders, averting the death of a bill that would have caused chaos throughout state government.
A day earlier, the House took an annual bill that gives the force of law to state agency rules and added a section that would have let payday lenders charge higher fees.
The debate about high-interest loans has raged at the Capitol for years, and its inclusion in the rules bill put the Senate in a quandary – pass the bill with an amendment that many Democrats despised, or send it back to the House and risk its failure.
If the bill had failed, every rule the state adopted in the last year would have lapsed on Sunday.
Those rules deal with the dates and fees for hunting season, teacher licenses, water rights for natural-gas wells, and nearly 600 more topics.
Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, said the rules bill is not the right place to have sensitive policy debates.
“We could have tacked civil unions onto Senate Bill 78 in some creative way at the end. We chose not to do that,” Johnston said. “I would like to pass a rules bill so that hunters can hunt in this state, that teachers can teach in this state, and oil and gas rigs can run in this state.”
Senators rejected the House version Wednesday afternoon.
Durango Sen. Ellen Roberts was the only Republican in the Legislature to vote against the House GOP maneuver. Otherwise, it was a party-line vote in both chambers.
Roberts said she favors letting payday lenders collect more fees, but she opposed the way it was being done.
“I cannot support changing the rule review bill for this,” Roberts said.
Rumors swirled around the Capitol all day that Gov. John Hickenlooper would call the Legislature into special session immediately if the bill had failed.
Wednesday was the last day of the yearly session.
Both sides accused each other of playing chicken. But after the Senate vote, the House could only pass the original bill or kill it.
Faced with that choice, House Republicans backed down.
“There are larger things here than one particular rule,” said Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, sponsor of the bill.