Procedural pranks hold up House in session’s final days

The actions taken on the night before the last day of the second session of the 68th General Assembly on the floor of the Colorado House of Representatives were quite different, to say the least. No one, including all of the staff and all of the lobbyists with years of institutional knowledge, had ever seen anything like it. As usual, in the waning days of the session, we were working through a big pile of bills – most that could have easily been calendared earlier in the session.

Any bill must get through second reading debate and approval on the day before the last day because second and third readings cannot take place on the same day. There were several bills that had come over from the Senate that were scheduled for second readings. Many of these bills had been heard and approved earlier that day by appropriate committees. These bills did not have time to be calendared and were put on a list of “special orders.”

One such bill was that authorizing civil unions in Colorado, Senate Bill 2. As is customary, the majority leader started the second readings calendar by moving to proceed with general orders and a vote was taken that failed because the Democrats and two Republicans wanted to go directly to “special orders” to debate the civil-unions bill. To me, it is only fair to start with the bills first in line. The same motion was made and failed about four times in a row. We had plenty of time to get through general orders and debate the special orders, and this procedural prank wasted valuable time. Frustrated, Speaker Frank McNulty recessed the House and met with the minority leader privately. The House was then called back to order and the motion for general orders was passed unanimously.

With Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg in the chair of the committee of the whole, we made decent time on second readings and were within three bills of hearing my bill, Senate Bill 116, which outlaws the addictive designer drug bath salts, when one of the Democrats made an unprecedented procedural move with a motion to “rise and report.” This means that all debate about second readings is halted and House votes on what has been done as the committee of the whole. I have only seen this motion made only by the majority leader or the assistant majority leader. It was another attempt by the Democrats to move into “special orders.” Sonnenberg immediately recessed the Committee of the Whole, and nothing happened as time ran out and bills not heard on second readings died. So went civil unions and outlawing bath salts, as well as the water-projects bill that is so important to Southwest Colorado.

The last day was spent amending Senate bills to incorporate and pass bills that were lost the night before. Bath salts were put into another bill and will thankfully be illegal in Colorado. The governor called a special session, and civil unions and the water-projects bill were to be heard then, with the former dying in committee.

J. Paul Brown represents House District 59 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses San Juan, Archuleta and La Plata counties and parts of Montezuma County. Contact Brown by phone at (303) 866-2914 or by email at jpaul.brown.house@state.co.us.