Governor calls special session

Hickenlooper wants Legislature to finish job on civil-unions measure

DENVER – On a day when gay rights vaulted to the top of the national political debate, Gov. John Hickenlooper said he will call the Legislature into special session to pass a civil-unions bill that died Tuesday night.

Hickenlooper choked back tears when he talked about gay or lesbian friends he met in the restaurant business who don’t have the same legal rights to marry as other people.

The civil-unions bill that died Tuesday would have granted many of the same rights as married couples, but it stopped short of full marriage. It had the votes to pass the House, but Republican leaders blocked it from being debated.

“Our goal is to make sure we do everything we can to make sure there is a fair and open debate on the floor of the House and the Senate,” Hickenlooper said, and then he quoted Martin Luther King: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. We want to make sure that arc is moving forward.”

The governor said he would specify today when the session will begin and what topics it will address.

But Hickenlooper does not have the power to make sure the House passes a civil-unions bill – or even debates it.

“I can’t force it, but I think it’s important for the state that we at least make another effort,” Hickenlooper said.

Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, refused to say whether he would allow a civil-unions bill to come up for a vote during the special session.

“It is ironic to me that the governor would choose to use his bully pulpit for the purpose of gay marriage and stand on the sidelines as families suffer, as Coloradans continue to look for work and as unemployment remains far too high,” McNulty said.

McNulty never used the phrase “civil unions” when talking to journalists Wednesday. Instead, he repeatedly talked about “gay marriage.”

President Barack Obama earlier in the day publicly stated his support for letting gays and lesbians marry, making him the first American president to do so.

In addition to civil unions, two dozen other bills died Tuesday night when Republicans filibustered and shut down the House after Democrats tried to wrest control of the chamber from them.

Legislators were able to resurrect at least eight bills by amending them into surviving bills.

To pull off this trick, the bills had to be about similar topics.

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, cautioned against bending the rules too much to rescue bills the House killed.

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

Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, found new life for his bill to ban a synthetic drug called bath salts because it was amended into another criminal-justice bill.

Late Wednesday night, legislators were still looking for life rafts for two crucial bills – the annual water-projects bill and an unemployment tax cut for many employers.

The water-projects bill includes $12 million for the state to complete its purchase of rights in the Animas-La Plata Project.

If the late effort succeeds, the special session could be limited to civil unions. If not, the agenda will have to be broader.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

Comments » Read and share your thoughts on this story