DENVER – Republicans brought the Colorado Senate to a standstill for the second day on Tuesday, as they continued to protest controversial legislation they say has been rushed through committees and floor hearings, ignoring the voices of conservative and rural communities in Colorado.
To stall committee hearings and debates, Republicans have ordered hourslong readings of bills and spent much of Tuesday debating Senate Bill 181, a rewrite of the state’s oil and gas regulations, refusing to let the bill come to a vote. On Monday, multiple computers were enlisted to speed-read a 2,000-page bill at 650 words a minute; senators listened to a gibberish reading of the bill for hours. But Republicans fought back Tuesday by filing a district court lawsuit against Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, requiring that all bills be read intelligibly. The first hearing in the case is set for March 19.
Republicans’ efforts have successfully delayed votes on controversial measures for a death penalty repeal and oil and gas regulation scheduled for Monday and Tuesday and could affect hearings for a “red flag” gun bill, paid family leave and affordable health care options scheduled for later in the week. Republican senators say delay is their only option to slow timelines that have put bills through multiple committee hearings in a few days, shutting their constituents out.
“We have very few other powers. We can’t walk off the floor, we just don’t have a filibuster,” said Sage Naumann, a spokesman for the party’s Senate caucus. “If all the Republicans in the Senate walked off the floor, it wouldn’t make a difference.”
On Tuesday, Democrats accused their Republican colleagues of throwing tantrums and engaging in “pure gamesmanship.” Sen. Garcia defended his record and asked that lawmakers be allowed to do their job.
“I have given every bill a fair hearing and have been committed to working across the aisle,” he said in a statement released Tuesday. “But Senate Republicans have decided to employ unprecedented partisan tactics.”
A shutdown in the Senate is the latest of several backlashes against Democratic-backed measures that have rankled Colorado’s conservatives and rural residents. Revolts from lawmakers and constituents are reminiscent of 2013, when two lawmakers were recalled and a coalition of northeastern counties tried to secede in the face of controversial gun-control legislation.
This time, officials from two counties, Montezuma and Fremont, have declared they wouldn’t enforce a “red flag” gun bill working its way through the Capitol. The bill would empower law enforcement to seize all firearms from a person determined to be a threat.
In other parts of state, petitions have circulated to recall lawmakers who voted in favor of a bill that would have Colorado join the national popular vote interstate compact, which seeks to elect U.S. presidents by popular vote only.
Northern Colorado Republican Sen. Vicki Marble declared on Facebook that certain counties in Colorado should secede – an echo of the 2013 failed effort. Other controversial bills have drawn hundreds of Coloradans to give testimony in marathon committee hearings that have stretched late into the night.
In November, Democrats claimed a trifecta of power in Denver with the election of Gov. Jared Polis and by securing majorities in the House and Senate. They have set the tone for a progressive session with bills to tackle high health care costs, gun control, expanding school sexual education, repealing the death penalty and expanding local control of oil and gas development.
But Democrats have drawn criticism from around the state for a recent spate of controversial bills – including a death penalty repeal, a mandatory family leave provision and a rewrite of the state’s oil and gas regulations – that have moved through committees and on to the Senate floor within days.
SB 181, a broad rewrite of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s mission that drew hundreds of oil and gas workers to the Capitol last week, has particularly rankled Republicans. The bill passed through three committees in a week, a fast timeline for any bill in the Legislature.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg seemed frustrated by colleagues’ claims that his rushed support of SB 181 overlooked the input of communities where oil and gas supports the economy.
“I came here to work today to perfect (the bill,)” Fenberg said. “I hope all of us did.”
But by 5 p.m. Tuesday, Republicans showed no interest in ending the debate.