Bills fizzle amidst end of session commotion

The Colorado Statesman

Amidst the commotion that accompanied the end of the 2011 legislative session were at least a half-dozen controversial bills that never quite made it through the process, and the General Assembly took the unusual step of overriding Gov. John Hickenlooper’s vetoes on the 2011 Long Appropriations Bill.

Both chambers voted unanimously on the last day of the session to override Hickenlooper’s vetoes of eight footnotes in Senate Bill 11-209. “It’s a separation of powers issue,” Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, told the House as he sought the override. “Our legal counsel says the governor doesn’t have the authority to line-item veto those footnotes.”

And while the governor has the authority to line-item veto any item with a footnote, the question, according to Ferrandino’s Joint Budget Committee colleague Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, is his authority to veto stand-alone footnotes, as was the case in SB 209. After the 63-0 vote, Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, quipped, “Let’s hear it for the first branch of government!”

The override of Hickenlooper’s Long Appropriations Bill vetoes matched what the 2007 General Assembly did with the vetoes handed down by Gov. Bill Ritter in his first year in office.

The 28 bills that died on the last day of the 2011 session (16 in the Senate, 12 in the House) included the last attempt by Republicans to repeal one more of the so-called “dirty dozen” tax bills from the 2010 session; a bill to set up judicial training on business litigation, a Wisconsin-style collective bargaining bill and an effort to change the state constitution’s requirements regarding ballot measures.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 11-001 was introduced on February 8 and by February 25 had passed the House with the necessary two-thirds approval needed to send it to the 2012 ballot. The measure had 13 bipartisan sponsors in the Senate and 46 in the House.

SCR 001 would have asked voters to raise the minimum threshold for approval of a constitutional amendment from a simple majority to 60 percent, and as introduced would have required a two-thirds majority vote to repeal or change any citizen-initiated statutory law, once a three-year waiting period had ended. But the House amended the resolution to require a 60-percent vote of the General Assembly to change or repeal the citizen-initiated statutory law. Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, told The Colorado Statesman earlier this year that she was willing to let that change go and adopt the resolution as amended, but Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, was not.

SCR 001 languished in the Senate for more than 2½ months, partly to wait for tempers to cool over issues such as the budget. On the final day of the session, the Senate voted to adhere to its original version and that was the end of SCR 1. Shaffer told reporters the next day that he had held the bill for months because he wasn’t sure he had the votes. And given that the bill wasn’t going to the general election ballot until 2012, the General Assembly always has next year to try again.

This year, the General Assembly introduced 597 bills, the fewest since before at least 1997, when 598 bills were introduced. Eight bills were introduced after May 1, including a bill to repeal the state sales and use tax on purchases made from online retailers, also known as the Amazon tax, that was passed in the 2010 session. House Bill 11-1318 was introduced on May 2 and was out of the House on a 58-6 vote three days later. And then it sat, waiting to be introduced in the Senate, which finally happened late in the day on May 10.

There was still time for HB 1318 to go through a committee hearing (or two, since it was assigned to two committees), and through second reading on Tuesday and a final vote on Wednesday. However, immediately after reading it and 10 other controversial House bills across the desk, Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, called for the Senate to adjourn. Several Republicans, including Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, tried to ask for committee hearings for the bill, but the request was ignored. A motion for adjournment is non-debatable, and the only possible response action is an up or down vote.

The bill would have gone into effect only if the lawsuit filed against the state last year by the Direct Marketing Association, which challenged the constitutionality of the 2010 legislation, was dismissed. And Amazon promised to re-hire its 4,000 affiliates and to notify its customers of the taxes they owed, according to its sponsor, House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument. Despite those changes, Senate Democrats made it clear that they preferred to see the court case run its course before taking any action. In January, Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, told The Statesman that “the standard to win in trial is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and all we’re doing is enforcing the laws that have been on the books since 1935 concerning sales and uses taxes.”

HB 1318 was killed by the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on May 11.

HB 1302 was also part of the late Tuesday 11, and it met the same fate. The bill would have allowed the Secretary of State to spend $360,000 in business fees to provide training for judges on business litigation. But it struggled through the House, in part because of Democratic concerns on the amount of control over the training that would have been wielded by Secretary of State Scott Gessler. Also in the late Tuesday 11: HB 1273, also known as the Health Care Opportunity and Patient Empowerment (HOPE) Act, which would have allowed the state to enter into interstate compacts for health care and gotten Colorado out of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. HB 1273 died on May 11 in the Senate Local Government Committee.

The House also dealt a death-blow to a dozen bills, including some of their own. HB 1320 was a Wisconsin-style bill that would have banned unions from entering into collective bargaining on behalf of state employees, but that right doesn’t exist in Colorado. The House also failed to hold a final vote on HB 1294, the controversial bear-hunting bill carried by Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio.

And the very first bill introduced in the Senate this year, which usually reflects the top priority of the Senate President, didn’t even make it to the Senate floor. SB 1, which would have created the “Knowledge-Based Economy Fund,” was killed at the sponsor’s request by the Senate Finance Committee on May 3. SB 1 would have set aside any revenue in excess of the 2.3 percent state general fund reserve for 2010-11 into the State Education Fund.

Shaffer, a co-sponsor of SB 1, said the bill was unnecessary because the goal of providing more funding for K-12 was accomplished through other legislation.

On a sadder note, the House also rejected a resolution penned by a Durango fifth-grader during the inaugural “Girls with Goals” Day back in March. Senate Joint Resolution 11-47, drafted by Abby Scott, would have established the first week in October as “Children’s History Week” and would have encouraged “families, schools, and communities to include in their conversations, educational activities, and studies examples of outstanding achievements of children.” The House Health and Environment Committee killed the resolution on May 11.

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com