Gardner: Civil rights commission isn’t exempt from legislative oversight

Thursday, March 1, 2018 12:44 PM
Sen. Bob Gardner

In recent weeks, much misinformation and political hyperbole has been spread about a “Republican plot” to defund the Colorado Civil Rights Division and the Civil Rights Commission.

As the Senate sponsor of the bill to reauthorize the CCRD and the CRC, I want to set the record straight for those Coloradans interested in facts, rather than political grandstanding, and the business of governing that we are elected to do.

Colorado is justifiably proud of its system of regular, periodic “sunset reviews” of licensing programs and regulatory bodies. It is a process that was largely invented here in our state. Over a hundred state programs and associated licensing requirements are authorized only for a fixed period of time, usually eight to twelve years. At the end of that period they must undergo a legislative review with public hearings in both House and Senate.

In 2018, the CCRD and 19 other programs are undergoing scheduled sunset reviews. Most of them will have changes and revisions because, after all, the purpose of sunset review is to determine how well programs are working and whether they are serving their intended purpose. Neither party has been a rubber stamp at sunset review.

As Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I have been designated as the Senate sponsor for the CRC and CCRD sunset review. And, to cut to the chase, the Commission has not been defunded and, as the Senate sponsor of the sunset legislation, I am committed to the reauthorization of both the CRC and the CCRD.

Yes, the CCRD will undergo a thorough review in both the House and the Senate, and if the Senate makes changes via amendments, the House will then consider the amended sunset bill and negotiations will commence to find an agreeable compromise. The only circumstance in which the CCRD would come to an end would be if the two chambers could not find an acceptable compromise of their differences.

Once again, I am committed to finding a compromise. But the early signs are that it will be difficult. The misinformation and outright demagoguery from my colleagues across the aisle that erupted after the February 8 Joint Budget Committee hearing on the CCRD budget was unprecedented. A routine request for a delay in voting on the CCRB budget request for FY 2018-2019 was blocked by JBC Democrats, who thereby forced a premature vote on a program undergoing a sunset review.

Indeed, two weeks later, a Democrat request to postpone a vote on the budget of another program undergoing legislative review was agreed to by JBC Republicans. And, later this session the JBC no doubt will approve a CCRD budget for this year, despite the hysterical cries of those who would polarize this important review of a government regulatory program that impacts citizens and businesses.

Unfortunately, the constructive and rational sunset process for reviewing state programs and regulatory structures has become the focus of political demagoguery that I have seldom seen in my ten years in the General Assembly.

Republicans have heard from business groups and community leaders that the structure, membership, transparency, and accountability of the Commission are lacking. The public hearing and legislative process is aimed at hearing and addressing these concerns in a thoughtful and balanced manner. These are legitimate concerns raised by our constituents and it is our job to listen and respond to their concerns. It is what we all are elected to do.

The CRC and the CCRD are not exempt from the same scrutiny and oversight that plumbers or electricians or real estate boards, or nurses or physicians boards, have undergone over the years. The bipartisan sunset review process has both revised and reauthorized these and many others on multiple occasions through the years, with adjustments for changes in the times and technologies.

Under our state constitution, no matter how noble or important a regulatory agency’s mission may be, all executive agencies and administrative bodies are ultimately accountable to the people’s elected representatives. It is what we are elected to do. Our constituents and our oath of office demand nothing less.

Senator Bob Gardner (R-Colo. Spgs) serves Senate District 12 in the Colorado General Assembly and chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.