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GOP filibuster kills legislation on civil unions

By: JOHN SCHROYER
May 8, 2012
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photo - House Speaker Frank McNulty confirms to reporters late Tuesday that an impasse will prevent consideration of a civil unions bill during the regular session. The move killed the legislation and dozens of other bills stacked up behind it. (Karl Gehring,The Denver Post) Photo by
House Speaker Frank McNulty confirms to reporters late Tuesday that an impasse will prevent consideration of a civil unions bill during the regular session. The move killed the legislation and dozens of other bills stacked up behind it. (Karl Gehring,The Denver Post) Photo by  

DENVER • A Republican filibuster brought the state House of Representatives to a halt Tuesday night, when legislators spent hours debating bills and then in recess, ensuring that a controversial bill to create civil unions for gay couples was never heard.

An impasse was declared around 11 p.m., and people in the gallery — filled mostly with supporters — screamed and yelled. Moments later, House and Senate sergeants cleared the gallery. The 29 measures that were not heard by midnight died because all measures need two hearings at least 24 hours apart. The Legislature adjourns at midnight Wednesday.

Numerous water bills, a marijuana DUI measure and a school discipline bill were among those  caught in the standoff and they, too, died.

Gov. John Hickenlooper made a trip to the House as the recess wore on and tried to negotiate between the two sides. Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, said the governor "has been very engaged. ... He tried his damnedest to get this done.

"Unfortunately, we just didn't have that Hickenlooper magic at the end."

Democrats and Republicans furiously blamed each other for manipulating legislative rules to get their way.

Later, Speaker of the House Frank McNulty said the impasse wasn't either side's fault.

"These things happen. It is unfortunate," McNulty said. "But the timing is such that we are not able to work through that impasse."

Ferrandino blamed the Republicans. "They don't want to have the debate," he said.

The tension and fireworks over the bill permeated the House all day Tuesday.

When the House convened Tuesday afternoon, Democrats stalled the debate on bills until  McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, angrily stormed down to the floor of the House and confronted Ferrandino.

“Do you want to do this all night? Do you want to hold up proceedings all night?” McNulty said to Ferrandino.

The pair, along with other legislative leaders, stepped into a side room to argue. Ferrandino told McNulty the Democrats didn’t trust that he would allow the bill to be introduced on the floor, and McNulty finally promised he would. The House then got up and running.

More than 30 bills were scheduled to be heard, though, and civil unions was far down the list.

Democrats tried to rearrange the schedule just before 9 p.m., and Republicans immediately put the hearing into recess. It remained in recess until about 11:20, when it reconvened long enough to adjourn for the day.

“We were not going to allow them to continue to filibuster,” Ferrandino said. “This is in the speaker’s hands now.”

Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, blamed Ferrandino for “playing procedural games.”

He blamed Senate Democrats for not sending the civil unions bill until nearly the end of the session and said they could have taken care of the bill much earlier.

“The Democrats are playing politics with this, plain and simple,” Waller said. “They want us to be in this circumstance right now, so they can increase their chances of taking a majority in the House next year.”

The bill was raised on the House floor Tuesday night after it was approved by a 7-6 majority in the House Appropriations Committee, with a lone Republican siding with Democrats to pass the measure.

It was the second time that happened — in the House Judiciary Committee last week, a separate Republican also voted in favor of the bill.

Ferrandino has said he had the votes to pass the measure, including the two Republicans who supported the bill in committee. But that support would be a moot point if Republican leadership kept the bill from being voted on.

Proponents of the measure held a large rally Tuesday morning on the west side of the Capitol, chanting, “Let them vote! Let them vote!”

A number of Democratic senators spoke at the rally and painted the civil unions bill as a measure of social equality.

Throughout Tuesday evening, social media networks were overflowing with comments about the stalling tactics and the lack of attention to getting legislative business done.

Contact John Schroyer: 476-4825 Twitter @Johnschroyer

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