Legislators scramble to clean up mess from Tuesday debacle

DENVER – State lawmakers turned their attention Wednesday morning to rescuing 25 bills that died Tuesday night in a shutdown of the House of Representatives.

House Republicans on Tuesday filibustered a bill to allow gay and lesbian couples to enter civil unions, and when Democrats tried to force the House to start debate on civil unions, Republicans shut down the chamber from 9 p.m. to nearly 11:30 p.m. Two dozen bills died in the process, including the annual water projects bill, which this year includes $12 million for the state to complete its purchase of rights to the Animas-La Plata Project.

Legislators are required to end their yearly session at midnight, but they sensed they had enough time to resurrect at least some of the bills from Tuesday night’s debacle.

“The goal here is to finish the work of the session in a respectful, dignified way,” said Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont. “Hopefully, we can demonstrate the Senate is the mature chamber and Democrats and Republicans can work together to get things done.”

That was far from the case in the House on Tuesday night, which featured an attempted power grab by minority Democrats and a shutdown of the chamber by Republicans.

Earlier in the day, Democrats expressed confidence that their civil unions bill would be heard, because the other two dozen bills on the calendar were essentially hostages to the Republican filibuster. Instead, civil unions died, along with all the hostages.

“I think the whole institution took a critical hit in the public’s eye yesterday,” said Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango.

Senators can save some of the casualties by using parliamentary maneuvers to amend them into bills that are still alive. But Roberts cautioned against bending the rules too much to rescue bills the House killed.

In order to be resurrected, a dead bill must fit inside the title of a living one. That makes some bills easy to save and others vexingly difficult.

For example, a bill to end zero-tolerance school discipline rules could go into the annual school finance act or another bill whose title is “concerning education.” Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, has a bill to criminalize synthetic drugs known as bath salts, and it could be amended into a broad bill about criminal procedures.

But the annual water projects bill – one of the highest priorities for legislators today – appears to be an orphan. Legislators and lobbyists are still looking for a bill they could attach it to and still plausibly claim they are following the rules.

Leaders warned legislators to expect to be in session until very late tonight.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

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