Legislative Session Ends, But Not For Long

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[photo credit: MVerlee/CPR]

The 68th General Assembly concluded its regular work last night, adjourning its session at the stroke of midnight. But lawmakers won’t be gone long. Governor John Hickenlooper says he’ll call them back for a special session to deal with unfinished business. Colorado Public Radio’s Megan Verlee was there all the way to the final minutes, and has this report.

Legislative Legal Services' special session FAQ

[The following is a transcript of Megan Verlee's report]

REPORTER MEGAN VERLEE: Members of the General Assembly spent their last day of work trying to undo some of the damage they did the night before. That’s when dozens of bills died in the process, innocent bystanders to a partisan showdown in the House over civil unions. To bring some of them back, lawmakers had to get creative.

Rep AMY STEPHENS (R-El Paso County): "Obviously, the operative word of the day is fluid."

REPORTER: House Majority Leader Amy Stephens started the morning by explaining to her caucus they’d be trying to resurrect many of those bills as amendments on still-living legislation with similar subjects.

STEPHENS: "We have a lot going on. As the Speaker said, we’ll have amendments, we’ll have conference committees. And I think we have a have a sense of cooperation and the working ability to get that done."

REPORTER: And as the day went on, lawmakers did cooperate. They managed to revive a number of bills: an effort to keep troubled kids in school by getting rid of most zero-tolerance expulsion policies; a ban on designer drugs known as ‘bath salts; and new rules for public access to voted ballots. But even as legislators wrapped up their work, Governor John Hickenlooper announced they’re not done yet. He’s calling a special session, to try again to pass civil unions.

Gov JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D): "I mean, there were complaints that there was not sufficient time to have a full debate around the civil unions bill on the House floor. Now, because we have we have that opportunity."

REPORTER: The special session will include a couple of other bills that died during Tuesday’s stalemate, but civil unions will be star attraction. An emotional Hickenlooper urged House Republicans to let the bill come to a full vote on the House floor, where it has enough support to pass.

HICKENLOOPER: "...And that we move forward, we move this entire state forward, so that, as Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” we want to make sure that that arc continues moving forward."

REPORTER: But Mark Ferrandino, the House Minority Leader and sponsor of civil unions, isn’t optimistic the measure will fare any better in a special session than it did in the regular one.

Rep MARK FERRANDINO (D-Denver): "It’s the same members, the same leadership, and I think they have the same intent they did during these last few days. And maybe that changes, maybe there’s enough pressure over the next couple days that changes their mind. But I don’t see the likelihood of that happening."

REPORTER: House Speaker Frank McNulty isn’t saying yet how he plans to handle the special session, but he did complain yesterday that the governor chose to put such a priority on civil unions.

SPKR FRANK MCNULTY (R-Highlands Ranch): "It is ironic to me that the governor would chose to use his bully pulpit for the purpose of gay marriage and stand on the sidelines as families suffer, as Coloradoans continue to look for work, and as unemployment remains far too high."

REPORTER: And McNulty said the fight over the civil unions shouldn’t overshadow the rest of what lawmaker have done.

MCNULTY: "When we talk about this session, it not ought be lost on one day or one night. But the recognition that much was accomplished and we’re pleased about the progress that we’ve made."

REPORTER: Usually the last day of the legislature feels a bit like the final day of school, with the antsy anticipation of summer freedom and the wistful goodbyes to parting friends. This time, the tone was more like the Friday before final exams. Traditionally, the last thing lawmakers do is send a delegation to the governor to tell him they’re about to adjourn. Hickenlooper sent a message of his own back with Representative Keith Swerdfeger.

Rep KEITH SWERDFEGER (R-Pueblo): "The governor was very proud of the work we’ve accomplished this year, in this session. He does look forward to seeing us, probably Monday. But that announcement will be made later, and stay tuned."

Megan Verlee, Colorado Public Radio News