By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
The hour was late and the debate was long, but the Republicans in the Colorado Senate were unyielding.
During the second reading of Senate Bill 228 on Monday afternoon, Republicans mounted a marathon filibuster that stretched into the early hours of Tuesday morning. They pulled no punches — or amendments — in their attempt to delay the inevitable passage of a bill they believe to be unconstitutional and fiscally reckless.
At issue is a repeal of the Arveschoug-Bird spending limit, a provision passed by the Legislature in 1991 that caps the growth of Colorado’s General Fund at 6 percent per year.
Although most Senate Democrats consider the limit a major hindrance to intelligent fiscal planning, it is considered essential by most Senate Republicans, who say it restrains out-of-control government growth.
Passion from the Republican side of the aisle fueled several hours of debate on SB 228 and an endless stream of go-nowhere amendments. Eventually, the Democrats used their majority control to invoke a seldom-used procedural rule to end the filibuster.
When the gavel finally fell, ending the session at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, the filibuster — the first since 2006 and the delay of House Bill 1072 — had lasted nearly 12 hours.
“The point of all of this is not to just delay, it is to say that we are not going to give this hill to the Democrats lightly,” Republican Minority Leader Sen. Josh Penry told The Colorado Statesman just before midnight Monday. “We are going to use the procedures and the rules available to us to force a real and protracted debate on this issue.”
Hours into the debate, the voice of the bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, had become raspy after hours of speaking from the well. Republicans introduced more than 40 amendments ranging from requests to send the bill to additional committees to changes that would make it impossible to repeal the 6 percent limit until certain state bridges have been repaired or replaced.
Republicans had many more ready to go when debate was ended.
“By my calculations, we have more than 100 amendments ready to be introduced, and we believe it could take two or three days to get through them all,” Penry said Monday during the debate. “We came prepared.”
The Democrats, who voted down each of the many Republican amendments, declared around 10:45 p.m. that they would use a procedural rule normally used to end debate for the day in order to be picked up again at a later time, to end the debate indefinitely after another hour.
Republicans immediately cried foul, claiming the majority was blocking their only outlet to dissent.
“They contemplated this scenario and said the rule has been interpreted to lay the bill over to another time but never in the hundred-year of history (of the Colorado Legislature) has the rule been used to stop debate from the minority party,” said Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch. “This is the first time it has ever been used like this. This is the first time the majority leader has used this motion to stifle debate from the minority.”
Democrats, who pointed to instances when Republican-held majorities had stopped filibusters — including during the redistricting debate in 2003 — said they only were using the procedural rules to their advantage, not rewriting or breaking them.
“We were very deliberate and very careful as this process was unfolding (and) conferred several times to make sure that, in fact, we did act in accordance with the rules,” Majority Leader Sen. Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, told The Statesman after the motion was made.
“I have heard some say that we are abusing the rules. But the fact of the matter is that we are using the rules — and they contemplate this scenario,” Shaffer continued. “We have debated for seven hours now. We have had a good conversation. And now it’s time to move on.”
Senate filibuster of SB 228 on Monday night.
The Colorado Statesman
Despite Republican motions calling the move “unprecedented,” Legislative Council was not willing to go that far.
Charles Pike, director of Legislative Council staff, said the procedural move certainly hasn’t been used in the way Democrats did Monday in the last 15 to 20 years at the Legislature. He could not, however, confirm Republican claims that it was the first time in state history the rule was invoked in such a way.
For many Democratic lawmakers, waiting out the filibuster and the long day were nothing more than hazards of the job.
“It’s all part of what we do down here,” said Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, as he sat on the benches lining the Senate floor at about 10:30 p.m. “I guess I will slow down (the long days) in three years when my term is up.”
After losing the filibuster Monday night and eventually having to watch SB 228 leave the Senate and head to the House, Republicans resolved to put up another fight — and possibly another filibuster — there.
It could be a little different on the House side, though. Loveland Republican Rep. Don Marostica, a Joint Budget Committee member, is the House sponsor of the bill.
And, as reported in The Statesman last week, Marostica already has fought his own party to continue his support for repealing the 6 percent limit. On Monday night, he indicated that he has no plans to back down.
As Marostica sat on the bench of the Republican side of the Senate floor Monday night during the filibuster, he was seen dutifully taking notes on the proceedings. Although both Republicans and Democrats were seen talking to him at times, for the most part he sat by himself, writing in his pad.
When asked by The Statesman if he would be able to keep his voice stronger than Morse had when Republicans take up SB 228 on the House floor, he smiled.
“Hopefully, I won’t have to,” he said.