Special session gives way to busy interim schedule

Much has been written about the short “special” session last week that followed the adjournment of our regular 120-day session. The centerpiece of the governor’s call of the special session, the civil-unions bill, failed to pass despite appearing to have sufficient votes overall that would have passed the bill. In this case, procedural moves trumped the number of “yes” votes, which is unfortunate and many people have told me so.

The bill was about civil unions, not gay marriage, despite the rhetoric surrounding it. More disturbing than the bill’s demise for policy reasons, though, was the manner in which it went down.

As a big fan of a fair and open process of debate and voting, I find procedural shortcuts on any policy matter to get to a politician’s desired result repugnant. But that’s how things go sometimes. I’ve been to the Senate Democrats’ version of the “kill committee” enough to say that leadership on both sides of the aisle take advantage of the procedural rules to get to the results they want. Not pretty, but that’s the process we have.

Another bill that failed for a second time to pass this year involved public safety and marijuana use by drivers. This topic also will have to wait another year to be considered again.

There were other bills considered that did pass, including the funding of water projects legislation.

After the special session ended, I attended meetings in Denver of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ executive committee. I was elected to NCSL’s executive committee last summer, and the Conference’s membership includes all state legislators nationwide.

The NCSL task force on federal deficit reduction also met during this time, and I remain very concerned about Congress’ inability or unwillingness or both to act on the federal deficit.

Sequestration will be triggered at the end of this year, which, in theory, will force cuts on national discretionary spending, except for Medicaid, and on the military.

The number of cuts is inadequate to deal with our national deficit, but it’s a token gesture by Congress to do something. However, we learned at the Denver meeting that no one in Washington, D.C., truly expects sequestration to take place as scheduled because of its political unpopularity, and sequestration most likely will be delayed.

One of the speakers to our task force said that it’s no longer a can that Congress is kicking down the road; now it’s a 55-gallon drum. Yikes.

Through the task force, NCSL previously sent word to D.C. that the states support an effort to “go big” in addressing the national deficit, even knowing we will be challenged to meet the consequences of losing federal funding in many areas.

Those of us on the task force firmly believe we can not continue procrastinating on this very big problem, and we don’t want to move into the even worse economic situation that Europe now is facing.

My work for the interim is cut out for me on this topic as well as assessing the impact on Colorado of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on the health reform act, due in late June. I’ll also be attending meetings around the district, working on constituent issues and finding time to relax and enjoy all that Southwest Colorado has to offer.

Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Contact Sen. Roberts by phone at (303) 866-4884, or by email at ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us.