Civil unions are dead for this year in Colorado and Republican obstruction is to blame after an unprecedented night of antics on the House floor. The civil unions bill passed out of its final committee yesterday evening and needed to reach a floor vote by midnight. Republicans instead chose to intentionally run out the clock with hour-long debates on noncontroversial legislation about historic license plates and trans-fats in school lunchrooms, with Rep. David Balmer (R) filibustering, “Not a one of you has the courage to vote against chocolate!”
Rep. B.J. Nikkel (R), one of several Republicans who supported civil unions in committee, offered to help Democrats regain control to force a vote. The presiding officer declared a recess as an attempted coup ensued. In this exclusive behind-the-scenes clip from OutFront Colorado, it’s obvious that House Speaker Frank McNulty (R) is seen holding the civil unions bill hostage, refusing to guarantee that he would bring it up to a vote. In fact, he dishonestly rejected the notion that any sort of stalling tactic was underway. Meanwhile, Rep. Mark Waller (R) attempted to play damage control on the floor, evoking uproarious laughter from the press when he claimed, “The Democrats in the State House right now are playing procedural games to have one bill heard over every other bill.”
Ultimately, the House never came out of recess. Not only did the civil unions bill die, but so did 30 other pieces of legislation, including $20 million worth of water projects statewide and a controversial bill that would set a standard for driving while stoned. Upon news the bills were dying, people in the gallery started booing and chanting, “Shame on you! Shame on you!” Watch how McNulty tried to blame the failure on an “impasse,” disingenuously suggesting “it is unfortunate that there will be items that do not receive consideration by the House tonight”:
But of course, McNulty is fully responsible for that impasse. He tried to pass the buck by blaming Senate Democrats for delaying introduction of the bill, but left out one important detail. Sen. Pat Steadman (D), the bill’s sponsor, explained that he brought the bill up late specifically because the speaker pro tem, Rep. Kevin Priola (R), was considering sponsoring the bill but wanted to wait until after the GOP state convention in mid-April. Priola supports the bill, but never bothered to sign on as the House sponsor, despite the delay at his request.
The Denver Post has called on Gov. John Hickenlooper to call a special session of the legislature so that civil unions can pass. Unfortunately, even in a special session, McNulty could reshuffle committee membership to prevent the bill from advancing to the floor.
There is no way to spin the absurd obstruction that took place last night. Despite ample support for civil unions from Republicans, it was the Republican House leadership that sacrificed 30 other bills to prevent same-sex couples from obtaining legal rights. It’s an historically sad day for Colorado politics.