The Colorado State Capitol building is pictured March 22, 2022, in downtown Denver. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)
Around 7:30 p.m. Monday, Colorado’s House Republican leadership called a caucus meeting. The conversation highlighted key challenges for Democrats and a potential boon for GOP representatives as the session draws rapidly to a close with dozens of significant bills left to pass.
Third reading — the last debate and recorded vote in the House or Senate before a piece of state legislation goes to the other chamber or on to the governor to sign — is normally a relatively restrained affair. A bill is nearly ready to be sent to the governor when it gets to third reading in the second chamber. Lawmakers must secure colleagues’ permission to offer third-reading amendments, and they’re discouraged from leaving the chamber or having side conversations during that part of the process.
But Monday, the third-to-last day of the session, had been a day of repeated requests from House Republicans to read bills at length, drawn-out comments from GOP members who often strayed far from the bill topics, and mounting tension among Democratic House Speaker Alec Garnett, Minority Leader Hugh McKean and other members of both caucuses — all during third-reading debate. Many bills have more steps remaining besides the final third-reading vote, raising the likelihood that they won’t pass the Legislature this week.
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“At this point with 100 bills, 100-plus bills that will be on the third-reading calendar … even if there’s absolutely no discussion whatsoever and every bill is just read at length by a computer, we’re still going past midnight on Wednesday,” Rep. Colin Larson, a Littleton Republican, said at Monday evening’s GOP caucus meeting.
So, Republicans — despite being outnumbered in both the House and Senate — currently enjoy an unusual amount of power to stop bills from passing before the constitutional clock runs out at midnight Wednesday, forcing the Legislature to adjourn for the session regardless of what’s remaining to accomplish. But many of the bills still on the calendar are sponsored by Republican lawmakers, and a protracted delay could result in some of those bills failing despite having the support of all but the most conservative members of the caucus.
At the caucus meeting, there were different ideas about what to do with that leverage.
Republicans should tell Democrats, “Give us what we need to swallow this pill and protect our values,” Rep. Richard Holtorf, an Akron Republican who’s prone to delivering long speeches at the well, said at the meeting. The caucus needs to “define what those (concessions) are and put those on the table,” he added.
“I might suggest that we look at this from the day and the week after: How much could we have killed, and how much could we tell the entire state that — ‘We left 50 bills on the table because we fought this,'” offered Rep. Ron Hanks, a Republican from Cañon City who is running for U.S. Senate.
Rep. Matt Soper, a Delta Republican, expressed some reservations.
“I don’t just want to report back that we killed like, 50 bills,” Soper said. “I want to actually be able to say, ‘We killed or we amended the worst of the worst.’ Because if I go back and say, ‘Well, guess what? That $10 million grant for rural hospitals … Yeah, I got that killed,’ well, that’s not really a good thing to report back.”
McKean said he would continue working to strike a deal with Garnett. But that still looked out of reach when following the caucus meeting Republican House lawmakers spent hours stalling a bipartisan bill to regulate dental therapists, which passed the Senate by a wide margin earlier this month.
The House adjourned for the night after 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 10:50 a.m. May 10, 2022, to correct the time of adjournment.
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