Judge Gives Temporary Victory To Senate GOP Stalling Tactic

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
State Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert at the Capitol Wednesday Feb. 6, 2019.
Photo: Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert
State Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert at the Capitol Wednesday Feb. 6, 2019.

A judge has given Republicans in the state Senate a temporary victory in their fight to slow down the pace of legislation this session.

The Denver District Court has issued a temporary restraining order against Democratic Senate President Leroy Garcia and Senate Secretary Cindi Markwell for their use of five computers that read text aloud at top speed to fulfill a Republican demand that a 2,000 page bill be read at length.

Legislative rules allow for any lawmaker to request that a bill lined up for a vote be read at length. It’s one of the few tactics members of the minority party can use to slow down the legislative process.

On Monday Republicans, angry at how quickly Democrats are moving a major oil and gas bill through the legislature, invoked that power just as the Senate was about to vote on HB 19-1172, a technical revision to a large number of Colorado laws. The request ground all other work by the chamber to a halt.

Eventually, Democrats transferred the reading of the bill from human staff to a bank of computers set to run several times faster than normal human speech. Senate rules do not say anything explicitly about whether a bill reading must be understandable.

So far at #coleg today...

1) Senate Rs demand a 2000-page bill be read at length in order to slow down the D majority.
2) Ds respond by having ***five computers*** read it, cutting the time needed from days to hours.

Here's how that sounds. Brace yourself. #copolitics pic.twitter.com/7vWb5SDOG9

Republican Senators immediately challenged the use of computers in Denver court, and on Tuesday the judge issued the temporary restraining order for “refusing to read legislation, including HB 1172, in an intelligible fashion absent the unanimous consent of all Members present to dispense with such reading as required by Article V, Section 22 of the Colorado Constitution.”

A final decision is expected on March 19.

In their legal filing, Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, Sens. John Cooke and Bob Gardner argue that Democrats conjured up “a cacophony of five computers simultaneously “reading” bill text, and at high- unintelligible-speed. This runs roughshod over both the text and the spirit behind the reading requirement of the Colorado Constitution.”

It’s not the first time the legislature has seen the tactic. In 2017, when Republican Rep. Dave Williams asked that the budget be read at length, the House’s parliamentarian had a group of staff read it out loud simultaneously to speed up the process, but no computers were used.

Earlier Tuesday, Republicans also asked that the 27-page oil and gas bill be read out loud, which delayed the start of debate.

One Republican said the GOP will continue to use whatever tactics are available to hinder the pace of debates, until Democrats agree to slow down the progress on some of their most divisive pieces of legislation.

In response to the legal challenge, Senate President Leroy Garcia said in a statement that Coloradans didn't "elect us to engage in political gamesmanship. In that spirit, I have given every bill a fair hearing and have been committed to working across the aisle."

"But Senate Republicans have decided to employ unprecedented partisan tactics, abuse taxpayer dollars, and waste time that could be spent working for the people of Colorado," his statement continued. "This political gamesmanship is more fitting of Washington, D.C. than Colorado — we are better than this."

Garcia said his door remains open and he invited Republicans to discuss how they can cooperate on the best policy for Colorado.