News

House debate on budget continues, colored with flashes of rancor

Author: John Tomasic - April 7, 2017 - Updated: April 7, 2017

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Colorado Joint Budget Committee member Rep. Millie Hamner,  D-Dillon, descends from the House speaker's podium, April 6, 2017. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)
Colorado Joint Budget Committee member Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, descends from the House speaker’s podium, April 6, 2017. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)

After ten hours of back and forth Thursday night, it became clear at near 11 p.m. that members were not going to conclude first-round debate on amendments to the proposed $26.8 billion state budget before midnight, the tentative deadline, so they halted debate and began again at 9:00 a.m. Friday.

The debate so far is progressing pretty much as everyone expected: It is spilling past its deadline; it is occasionally contentious, sometimes bitterly so; it has seen the Democratic majority approve a raft of Democratic amendments and dispatch a raft of Republican amendments. And the lion’s share of those Republican proposals, also as expected, have been meant to demonstrate that lawmakers could pay for perennially underfunded transportation and education programs if only they could get their spending priorities in line.

Republican amendments intended to free up money for transportation included proposals that would levy co-pays on Medicaid recipients for doctors visits and prescriptions; eliminate Medicaid eligibility for adults without dependent children; slash a child welfare campaign; strip funds for cities that use unpopular red light cameras; and eliminate funding for the state patrol aircraft program.

The list was long, but Michael Fields, issues director at small-government group Americans for Prosperity, boiled down the message of the amendments for his Twitter audience.

“House Dems voting down these amendments shows what we already knew: they don’t wanna fix roads unless they get a tax hike,” he tweeted.

Fireworks erupted near 8 p.m. around an amendment introduced by freshman Rep. Dave Williams, a Republican from Colorado Springs.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, and Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton, in a budget debate clash, April 6, 2017. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)
House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, and Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton, in a budget debate clash, April 6, 2017. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)

Williams had earlier introduced an amendment that aimed to “defund public universities that engage in sale, purchase, trafficking, or trading in aborted baby body parts.” That amendment was ruled out of order for attempting to make “substantive law” beyond the scope of the budget bill.

That was Amendment 40. An hour later, or so, Williams introduced his Amendment 64, which aimed to “defund counties and municipalities that self-identify as sanctuary cities for illegal aliens or that are considered sanctuary cities by the federal government.”

House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, watches as Rep. Alec Garnett, D-Denver, attempts to cool temperatures, and Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton, reflects during a budget debate clash, April 6, 2017. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)
House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, watches as Rep. Alec Garnett, D-Denver, attempts to cool temperatures, and Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton, reflects during a budget debate clash, April 6, 2017. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)

Williams has already run a House bill on the topic of sanctuary cities, which Democrats killed in committee, and is running another as a Senate bill.

But Democrats had already reviewed the Williams amendments and knew what was coming. Assistant Majority Leader Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat, gaveled the amendment out of order even before Williams could fully introduce it.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, straight talking with Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton, during a budget debate clash in Denver, April 6, 2017. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)
House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, straight talking with Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, and Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton, during a budget debate clash in Denver, April 6, 2017. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)

Williams took offense and used a “nuclear” procedural move to halt debate: He requested that the bill under debate be read aloud in the chamber. The budget “long bill” that the House is amending is 600-plus pages.

The bill reading commenced and continued for nearly 30 minutes without pause, Reading Clerk Connor Randall surrounded at the front of the chamber by roughly a dozen House staffers and all of them reading out different sections of the bill simultaneously. The result was a chorus of mumbled budget-related legislative phrases barely comprehensible in the best of circumstances.

Rep. Justin Everett, a hardline Littleton Republican, approached the press table to explain what was happening. He decried Democrats for cutting off debate in a “Washington-style” partisan show of force, for displaying what he saw as a cavalier disrespect for legislative rules meant to guarantee minority views are heard.

Democrats suggested Everett was merely glossing a freshman temper tantrum.

Meantime, Garnett and Williams repaired to a corner, or perhaps to the House balcony, to has out the matter. Garnett later explained that he had apologized to Williams for gaveling him down so quickly but that he was motivated mainly by the urge to move along debate and gain ground on the more than 30 amendments left on the roster.

Williams relented and told Randall the reading clerk, who bore the brunt of the standoff, that he was free to stop reading.

As budget debate continued Friday morning, Williams clashed with Democrats over an amendment to remove funds that would pay for undocumented immigrants to receive drivers licenses.

In his amendment, Williams referred to undocumented residents as “illegal immigrants.” Democrats took offense. Thornton Rep. Joe Salazar called the amendment a “show.”

“This is an alt-right show,” he said, waving dismissively to the screen where the amendment was projected. “When you pass a policy like this, people learn how to drive better and they have insurance. They take tests that insure they know how to drive on our roads safely, which lowers insurance rates… But it has to be a show for some, not about policy, not about what’s good for Colorado, but because we have to put sparklers and glitter over a show and use hateful language in order to get people’s attention. We should rise above the show.”

“This is a show, what I’m seeing today,” said Williams. “This amendment is ultimately about respecting the rule of law. The term ‘illegal alien’ is actually a legal term.

“What we should be talking about here are citizens, the citizens we’re supposed to be representing and protecting,” he said. “This program is another program that attracts illegal aliens to our state and in turn endangers our public… This is a sanctuary city policy. If by keeping this policy in place the majority wants to endanger our cititzens, I won’t be a part of it.”

Members of the House are scheduled Friday to wrap debate on amendments. If they do, final votes on the budget can be cast on Monday.

john@coloradostatesman.com

John Tomasic

John Tomasic

John Tomasic is a senior political reporter for The Colorado Statesman covering the Colorado Legislature.


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