2021 Leg Session, Coronavirus, Featured, Gold Dome, Politics, Sherrie Peif

Minority leader says Democrats’ arbitrary rule change mutes Republican voices in legislature

DENVER — The Republican minority leader in the Colorado House of Representatives says a new procedural rule will not only negatively impact constituents, but it was done without any input from House Republicans, a power grab that is becoming more common with Democrats as they control every office at the state level.

House Rule 44, which governs the duties of state officers and employees, was changed to allow for a “blank check to introduce and pass all manner of bills,” House Minority Leader Hugh McKean said in a news release.

Hugh McKean

McKean told Complete Colorado that special rules governing the work of the legislature during a disaster declaration by the governor have been arbitrarily changed to meet the needs of the majority Democrats.

The rule change was passed as part of a 3-day “soft opening” of the Colorado legislature that ended Friday.

Joint rule 44 requires that legislators prioritize their bills during a declared emergency that activates the Colorado emergency operations action plan. They are required to make sure that things such as the budget, the school finance act, etc. are passed above all else.

“It’s does something very specific,” McKean said. “The executive committee shall (emphasis on shall) meet and set forth the following if the General Assembly is in regular session:”

  • May submit bills to address the specific disaster emergency
  • The prioritization of any pending (emphasis on pending) legislation dealing with the state budget, or state policy the executive committee deems necessary to enact prior to adjourning the session.

“What that (means) is the budget, the appropriations bill, the supplemental appropriations bills, the school finance bill and any other issues the executive committee deems critical to address. It literally restricts us to the things we have to do, and we shall (emphasis on shall) prioritize according to that. It literally says if you can’t hold a normal legislative session, ya’ll have to prioritize.”

The reaction to COVID-19 shut down last year’s session so that legislators had to reconvene, and it threatens to do the same now. It also caused the need for remote testimony by both legislators and constituents. In fact, nothing about the last legislative session or this one is anything near normal, McKean said.

“Finally, a way that we can say we have to prioritize according to what the constitution says, but they struck all that language and they made it “may” (instead of shall),” McKean said. “But they also tinkered with the way bills and late bill authorization could be granted. So really, if they want to, they can clear the deck. They can cancel everybody’s bills and they can start over and give late authorization to whatever they want and whomever they want.”

McKean said this type of power grab would take away the voice of every person in the state who happens to be represented by a Republican state lawmaker.

“If they do that, you will have legislators who are not granted a bill,” McKean said. “Whose specific needs in their district because of the letter behind their name, will be deprived of their voice through legislation.”

Republicans were able to get Democrats to concede to an amendment that will allow majority leadership to decrease the number of bills allowed but not by less than one bill per legislator.

Historically, legislators are granted a minimum of five bills if drafted prior to Dec. 1 (Dec. 15 for new legislators) and late bills as approved by majority leadership.

“We got Democrats to take it after beating them up for five hours and giving them a really good amendment they could pass,” McKean said, although the rule still passed only along party lines as Republicans voted no out of principle.

“It’s still not right,” McKean said, adding there are two problems with the resolution that changed the long-standing rule put in place after the terrorist attacks of  9-11. “We were given this bill in the evening before the executive meeting … we had less than 24 hours to dig into this bill. The executive committee excepted nothing but one or two minor changes.”

On the floor, Democrats accused Republicans of not being prepared, McKean said.

“The process was terrible,” McKean said, adding he was not surprised by their tactics. “They did not include the minority party in their process. And they should not have been surprised by five hours of debate on a joint rule because in the end, the minority party only has the rules to depend on to make sure they have a voice. If we don’t have the rules, the minority party might as well not show up.”

There is no recourse for the public or the minority party, McKean said.

“Elections have consequences,” McKean said. “The saying is: the majority has their way, and the minority has their say. So, we had our say for five hours … and that was important, but we still voted as a caucus against this because it’s still the wrong way to go about and it robs members of districts that are far outside the front range of their voices.”

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