Sine Die, for real

Now wasn’t that special?
The Colorado Statesman

Following a divisive three-day special legislative session, both sides of the political aisle licked their wounds on Wednesday as they mustered up the strength to discuss the highlights of the 2012 session. It was a respite from all the blame games and polarizing rhetoric that had held the assembly captive over the past week.

But their end-of-session closing remarks were still fueled with political jabs and finger pointing, with both sides fighting over whether the special session called by Gov. John Hickenlooper was even necessary.

Republicans, who were quick to insert Hickenlooper’s moniker when they talked about the “Governor’s special session,” insisted that it was called strictly to pass controversial legislation that would have recognized same-sex civil unions in Colorado. Republican lawmakers pointed out that the Democratic governor only added six other issues to the “call” in order to justify the $23,500 per day “extraordinary” session. Ultimately, the civil unions bill died a swift death at the hands of Republicans on the first day.

GOP leadership believes Democrats allowed bills to languish on the calendar in the waning hours of the regular session, and did not make enough of an effort to save important bipartisan pieces through amendments in the Senate on the last day of the regular session last week. In the end, the Senate was able to save eight bills in the regular session by tacking them on as amendments to other bills. But Senate Democratic leadership countered that the other important bills did not have similar measures with appropriate titles and consequently couldn’t be attached to other bills.

Consequently, legislation that addressed funding for water projects, bonding requirements for the unemployment insurance trust fund, and registration requirements for special mobile machinery fleets had to be addressed in the governor’s call for a special session. Other bills dealt with the registration of benefit corporations, the creation of prosecutorial tools for driving under the influence of marijuana offenses, asking voters to repeal obsolete provisions to the state constitution, and authorizing funding for medical marijuana enforcement.

House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, stuck to his guns on Wednesday, suggesting that the special session was never necessary.

“Gov. Hickenlooper’s special session has now been shown to be unnecessary,” he said in a statement. “While I am pleased we were able to reduce red tape on special mobile machinery, the water projects bill and the unemployment insurance bonding bill could have and should have passed last Wednesday.

“Gov. Hickenlooper convened the special session for political purposes and is clearly reading from President Obama’s campaign playbook as he attempts to distract voters from the real issue: the economy,” McNulty pummeled home from his Statehouse perch.

McNulty alleged that Hickenlooper is a mere puppet to “Obama campaign operatives” who have been revolving in and out of the governor’s office in an effort to make “same-sex marriage” a focal point in Colorado given the upcoming presidential election.

When Hickenlooper first heard McNulty’s allegations last week, he laughed out loud and then responded, “You’ve got to be kidding me. No one from the Obama campaign has been around at all. In fact, feelings have been a little hurt. I don’t know what he’s referring to.”

When asked by The Colorado Statesman this week whether he was wrong to make those initial allegations, McNulty trekked on.

“If I were accused of making a decision because of President Obama’s campaign strategy, I would have laughed nervously too,” he said. “The bottom line is Colorado operatives are moving in and out of the governor’s office. He can deny it, but that’s what happened.”

Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, steered clear of the alleged link between Hickenlooper and Obama’s reelection campaign, saying that he had not seen the governor’s calendar, nor had he personally witnessed any Obama operatives moving through that office. But he agreed with the Speaker that the special session was based on Hickenlooper’s call, and not because House Republican leadership delayed 30 bills last week by calling a recess of the House as they approached a midnight deadline in an effort to kill civil unions legislation.

Democrats, who labeled the extra three days as the “Speaker’s special session,” contended that the governor’s hands were tied after House Republican leadership allowed an unprecedented 30 bills to die over civil unions. Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, called the move by Republicans the “midnight massacre.”

“I’ve never seen 30 bills die at one time… we’ve never seen one super motion kill as important bills as the water projects bill and the unemployment insurance bill in order to prevent floor debate on a bill that the Speaker didn’t like, especially in light of bipartisan support of the bill,” said Shaffer.

“With or without civil unions, I think a special session would have been justified simply to address the water projects bill and the unemployment insurance bill that we finally passed today,” he said following adjournment of the special session. “Those were very significant pieces of legislation that were very significant for jobs and the economy and our state.”

“It was important for the General Assembly to finish consideration of important bills that died last week when the House recessed to avoid voting on civil unions,” Hickenlooper explained. “With the exception of civil unions, each of the bills we put on the special session call received an open debate and a final vote just like they deserved.”

Senate Democrats laud bills for jobs and the economy

With the politics around the special session in the rearview mirror, legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle met with the media this week to tout their successes, all of which involved passage of measures to grow jobs and the economy.

Senate Democrats point to at least 19 bills that they believe will or would have increased hiring in Colorado. Not all the measures passed, however, as they ran into roadblocks in the Republican-controlled House.

For example, the centerpiece of the Senate Democrats’ jobs package was Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, a measure that would have offered incentives to businesses that employ Colorado workers in state construction and service contracts. That bill made it through the Senate, but died in the Republican-controlled House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, which is known as the Republicans’ “kill” committee.

Senate Bill 4, sponsored by Sen. Joyce Foster, D-Denver, would have offered preferences to companies that purchase American-made materials when bidding on state contracts, but the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee also killed that bill.

Senate Bill 3, sponsored by Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, would have prohibited hiring discrimination based on bad credit, but the House Local Government Committee killed that measure.

One success for Senate Democrats, however, was Senate Bill 35, sponsored by Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, which facilitates development of the commercial spaceflight industry in Colorado. The bill had bipartisan support, having also been carried by Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs.

Also a success was Senate Bill 133, sponsored by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, which will provide a program for recycling electronic waste.

The aforementioned bills represent only a few of the highlights and low points for Senate Democrats.

“We defined this session as a jobs and economy session… what we got out of the session are real bills that will put Coloradans back to work,” said Shaffer, who is leaving the legislature after this year and running for Congress in the 4th Congressional District.

House Republicans point to efforts

House Republicans also pointed to their accomplishments, which focused on at least 10 bills related to jobs and the economy.

House Bill 1002, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, will ensure that rules in place at the beginning of an application for licensing and regulatory issues stay in place. The aim is to ease regulatory burdens for businesses. The governor has signed the bill.

House Bill 1119, sponsored by Coram and Sens. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, and Steve King, R-Grand Junction, would allow a grace period to cure minor infractions before the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment can impose a fine. The bill has been sent to the governor.

House Bill 1008, sponsored by Rep. Cindy Acree, R-Aurora, and Jahn, would encourage collaboration between the state and small businesses to avert potentially troublesome fees or rule changes. That bill was signed by Hickenlooper on Thursday.

House Bill 1009, sponsored by Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, and Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, requires transparency in federal funds for determining where the money is being spent. The governor has signed that bill.

House Republicans, however, lost battles to Democrats in the Senate over several pieces of legislation that were part of their jobs agenda.

House Bill 1007, sponsored by Rep. Libby Szabo, R-Arvada, and Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, would have required that the impact of rule changes are considered first to protect unintended consequences to businesses. The bill died in the Senate Local Government Committee.

House Bill 1175, sponsored by House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, and Cadman, would have required local departments to seek opportunities to opt out of federal regulations. The bill died in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

The aforementioned bills represent only a few of the highlights and low points for House Republicans.

McNulty last week praised his caucus’ efforts. “From our perspective we had a remarkably productive legislative session. When we came into the session in January, our focus was on job creation and economic recovery. We maintained that focus on the part of our House Republican caucus through the session.”

House Democrats applaud efforts for jobs and Colorado

House Democrats pointed to at least 21 bills that they say will assist Colorado businesses and create jobs, while also improving the economy and addressing issues critical to Coloradans.

House Bill 1061, sponsored by Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, and Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, will connect colleges and universities with companies to enhance course offerings. The governor has signed the bill.

House Bill 1272, sponsored by Reps. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, and Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster, as well as by Newell, would invest $8 million in unemployment benefits for those who want to learn new workforce skills. The bill passed both chambers.

House Bill 1241, sponsored by House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, and Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, would create a task force to recommend changes to the state’s enterprise zone system. The bill has been sent to the governor.

House Bill 1286, sponsored by Ferrandino and Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, would incentivize the film industry to make more movies in Colorado. The bill is scheduled to be signed on Friday.

House Bill 1281, sponsored by Reps. Dave Young, D-Greeley, and Gerou, as well as by Sens. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, and Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, would shift the state away from fee-for-service Medicaid programs towards outcomes-oriented payment systems. The legislation has passed both chambers.

House Bill 1321, sponsored by Ferrandino and Rep. Glenn Vaad, R-Mead, along with House Concurrent Resolution 1001, would make statutory changes and ask voters to reform the state’s personnel system to expand competitive hiring and implement merit pay. The bills are awaiting action by the governor.

But not all of the efforts by House Democrats paid off. The Republican-controlled House killed at least 13 bills from House Democrats that were billed as “jobs” bills.

House Bill 1129, sponsored by Rep. Max Tyler, D-Lakewood, and Jahn, would have provided an extra $300,000 for the state’s network of small business development centers. The House Appropriations Committee killed the bill.
House Bill 1134, sponsored by Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, would have prohibited job-hiring discrimination against the unemployed. The House Economic and Business Development Committee killed that bill.

House Bill 1251, sponsored by Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Gunbarrel, and Heath, would have placed a $500,000 cap on income tax credits granted to any single enterprise zone claimant. The House Finance Committee killed that bill.

House Bill 1259, sponsored by Rep. Joe Miklosi, D-Denver, would have allowed individuals to waive confidentiality to share information with job training and placement organizations in an effort to connect unemployed veterans with jobs. The House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee killed that bill.

House Bill 1056, sponsored by Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, and Hodge, would have clarified roles and expectations under the 2009 Colorado Regional Tourism Act in an effort to encourage more out-of-state tourism. The House Appropriations Committee killed that bill.

The aforementioned bills represent only a few of the highlights and low points for House Democrats.

Ferrandino said that he hopes the political divisiveness in the last week of the legislature doesn’t overshadow the good work and efforts of his caucus over the course of the session.

“I don’t want the outcome on civil unions to obscure the legislature’s real accomplishments this year,” said Ferrandino. “On balance, I’m proud of our work.”

Senate Republicans praise efforts

Senate Republicans said they did the best they could, considering their minority role in the chamber. But Cadman is proud of the work of his caucus, saying that Senate Republicans remained dedicated to the work of Colorado.

“I’m glad it’s over, finally. I think we did a good job as a minority caucus, a red caucus in a purple state, I think we got a lot of things done,” he said. “We sent a really good message to the business community.”

Of the business and jobs bills that Senate Republicans are highlighting at the end of the session, at least 13 play into their “growth and prosperity” agenda.

Senate Bill 26, sponsored by Cadman and Vaad, prohibits the state from imposing unfunded mandates on local governments. The governor has signed the measure.

Senate Bill 123, sponsored by Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, and Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, would streamline and enhance the online business filing system maintained by the secretary of state in order to make it easier for businesses to register their required business filings. The governor has signed the bill.

Senate Bill 118, sponsored by Sen. Jean White, R-Hayden, and Acree, would repeal the requirement for a hotel and restaurant alcohol license that 25 percent of sales must be from meals. The governor has signed the bill.

Other highlights for Senate Republicans include House bills that Senate Republican leadership helped push through the legislature. The centerpiece of their efforts on bills sent from the lower chamber, House Bill 1029, was sponsored by Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, and introduced by Rep. Chris Holbert, also a Republican from Parker. The bill will reduce the business personal property tax in Colorado by offering an exemption to relocating or expanding businesses. The governor has already signed the bill.

Senate Republicans are frustrated, however, that Democrats killed at least nine pieces of their legislation that they believe would have benefited Coloradans.

At the top of the list is Senate Bill 52, sponsored by Scheffel, which would have eliminated the business personal property tax in Colorado. The Senate Finance Committee killed that bill.

Also of concern to Senate Republicans is the death of Senate Bill 80, sponsored by Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield. The measure would have required input from the private sector on bills that could have had unintended fiscal consequences. The Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Com-mittee killed that piece of legislation.

Senate Bill 32, sponsored by Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, would have required the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to seek a federal waiver to allow for increased flexibility in the management of the state’s Medicaid programs. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee killed that bill.

The aforementioned bills represent only a few of the highlights and low points for Senate Republicans.

Other issues won and lost in the legislative session

There were a host of other issues that were both praised and criticized over the legislative session by both parties and chambers, everything from immigration reform to updating the state’s telecommunications system.

Beyond just civil unions, another wedge issue that took the Capitol by storm again this year was reduced tuition rates for undocumented students.

Senate Bill 15, sponsored by Sens. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, and Giron, would have provided reduced tuition rates to undocumented students who have attended Colorado public or private schools and have signaled their intent to become an American citizen.

The bill made it further along than in any previous session, having earned the support of Massey, who sent the bill through his House Education Committee. But ultimately House Republicans killed the bill when it made its way to the House Finance Committee.

Johnston on Monday said he was “heartbroken… Heartbroken 2 of my other bills were biggest misses: 1000s HS kids wont go 2college …” he posted in a Tweet.

The other bill that was a loss for Johnston was House Bill 1267, sponsored by Coram and Heath, which would have required county clerks to send mail ballots to inactive voters. The measure died on the Republican-controlled House calendar.

House Bill 1271, sponsored by Reps. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland, and Beth McCann, D-Denver, was signed by the governor, and will limit a prosecutor’s ability to charge juveniles as adults through the state’s so-called “direct file” system.

Reforming the state’s decades-old telecommunications laws was another casualty this year. Senate Bill 157, sponsored by Sens. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, and Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, would have eliminated out-of-date subsidies, saving ratepayers money. But the bill was caught in union and political fire, and it was killed in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Finally, on Thursday Hickenlooper signed a bill that will bring reforms to early childhood education in an effort to increase early childhood literacy.

The bipartisan House Bill 1238, sponsored by Massey and Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, as well as by Johnston and Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, was praised by the business community and agreed upon by education advocates. The measure will create better assessments and enhanced intervention services for students in kindergarten through third grade.

Peter@coloradostatesman.com