Tag Archives | Civil Unions

Civil Unions Bill Approved!


On Tuesday, March 12, 2013, the House of Representatives voted to pass SB 13-011 by a margin of 39 to 26.  All Democratic members of the House and Senate voted to support the extension of basic legal rights that SB 11 offers to couples in our state, as did a handful of Republican members.  The bill will soon be delivered to the desk of Governor John Hickenlooper for signature.

I’m incredibly proud of our state and this historic accomplishment.  We’ve come a long way from the dark days of 1992, when voters added a controversial and discriminatory provision to the Colorado Constitution that sought to exclude gays and lesbians from the equal protection of the law in our state.  The United States Supreme Court struck down “Amendment 2,” as it was known, in a 6 to 3 decision in 1996.  I sat in the courtroom the October day in 1995 when they heard oral arguments in the Romer v. Evans case.  Looking back on this chapter of our history puts today’s victory in perspective.

The road to equality is long and rocky.  We’ve overcome some major obstacles along the way, but there is more work still to do.  Another provision of the Colorado Constitution continues to discriminate against gay men and lesbians and prevent their equal inclusion in the fabric of our society.  Some day soon it too must be overturned.  As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the Romer v. Evans opinion, “A state cannot so deem a class of persons a stranger to its laws.”  Passage of SB 11 helps remedy the inequality enshrined in our state constitution and ends the status of “strangers to our laws,” but we still have far to go before the promise of liberty and justice for all is fulfilled.


First Term “Top 10 List”

A Record of Accomplishment

As I reflect back on my first term in the Colorado State Senate I marvel at how quickly those first three years went by.  I also take stock of all I accomplished in those first three years.  Although the accomplishments are numerous, I’ve condensed them into a Top Ten List, grouping multiple bills under thematic headlines that highlight the issues I’ve emphasized.  But first, some statistics:

  • Over the course of three legislative sessions I was the prime sponsor of 104 bills, 37 of which I introduced in the Senate and the remaining 67 were bills that originated in the House of Representatives. 
  • Of those 104 bills, 77 were signed into law by the Governor and one additional bill became law without the Governor’s signature. 
  • 23 of the bills I sponsored in the past two years were bills originating in the Joint Budget Committee that I carried on behalf of the Committee.


Top Ten Accomplishments of My First Term in the Senate:

10.  Balanced Budget Committee

In November 2010 my Senate colleagues elected me to serve on the Joint Budget Committee.  This bipartisan committee has the responsibility to carry out the state legislature’s single most important duty: to pass a balanced budget each year.  During my first year on the Committee we faced a $1 billion shortfall and were forced to make serious cuts and transfers.  This past year we saw revenues start to rebound, meaning fewer cuts and transfers, but we haven’t begun to restore the deep cuts to K-12 and higher education.  Both budget bills written by the JBC in my two years on the Committee won overwhelming bipartisan support. 

9.  Supporting Public Education

Thanks to my background in school finance, in my first year I found myself assigned to the Conference Committee for the School Finance Act.  In a year in which deep cuts were made to school funding, I had unsuccessfully tried to amend HB 10-1369 to ensure reductions were fairly borne by all school districts.  Although my proposal failed to pass during Senate debate of the bill, it later became the compromise position in conference.  Thus began my role enacting complex changes to the school finance formula, a role that continued as the lead JBC member on school finance and sponsor of JBC bills adjusting the formula to keep the budget in balance (SB 11-157 and HB 12-1201).  I’m especially proud of the work of the JBC this year to grow the balance in the Permanent Fund, an inter-generational trust benefiting public education in Colorado.  Earnings from state trust lands dedicated at statehood are supposed to be deposited in the Permanent Fund, but in recent years they’ve been used to partially offset some of the cuts to public education.  SB 12-145 begins the process of reversing this trend, allowing the Permanent Fund to grow by $18 million in FY 2011-12.

8.  Giving Kids a Chance

As a member of the Early Childhood & School Readiness Commission I sponsored bills to improve the quality of preschool teachers (HB 10-1030) and ensure continuity and quality in early childhood programs (HB 10-1035).  I sponsored a bill that had been recommended by the Child Welfare Action Committee to improve court procedures in dependency and neglect cases (HB 10-1359).  I worked with the Boys & Girls Club to address regulatory issues with the Department of Human Services, creating licensure for neighborhood youth organizations (HB 10-1044 and HB 12-1228).  And a bill I helped pass in 2011 (HB 11-1254) requires school districts to update their policies to do more to prevent school bullying, because every child deserves a safe and respectful learning environment.

7.  Clean Syringe Exchange

Clean syringe exchange programs are an important strategy for protecting public health. SB 10-189 allows local boards of health to approve programs to operate in their jurisdiction under an exemption from the criminal drug paraphernalia law. There is solid scientific research that demonstrates these programs, some of which have been operating in other parts of the country and around the world for over two decades, prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV and do not lead to increases in drug use or criminal activity.  Since Gov. Ritter signed SB 189 into law, two new syringe exchange programs have been implemented in Denver and a third will soon begin in Larimer County. 

6.  Investing in Colorado’s Energy Economy

One of Governor Hickenlooper’s top priorities for the 2012 session was restoring funding for the Colorado Energy Office.  My JBC colleague Rep. Jon Becker and I sponsored HB 12-1315 to continue Colorado’s investment in new energy technologies and jobs and make available new funds to promote efficient use of traditional energy sources, also an important source of jobs.  You can find more of the backstory in a recent issue of 5280 Magazine and their in-depth profile on the Governor’s first year in office.

5.  Tax & Fiscal Policy

I’ve worked to boost and stabilize state revenues, and to make our tax policy more rational and transparent.  Tax amnesty was only half the story behind SB 11-184.  While the tax amnesty program was popular and helped collect over $16 million in taxes owed to the state ($9 million of which was credited to the State Education Fund), the tax reporting provisions of the bill will benefit the state for years into the future.  SB 184 requires the compilation of information regarding tax expenditures in Colorado law, allowing us to see and quantify where exemptions, credits and other loopholes in the tax code cause revenue reductions.  Hopefully, fairer taxation will result.  In addition to SB 184, I’ve passed numerous bills on tax policy, including HB 10-1055, HB 10-1060, HB 11-1296, HB 12-1353 and HB 11-1146, which took important steps to reform agricultural designations for property tax purposes in light of serious abuses. 

4.  Promoting Arts & Creative Industries

As an art lover I enjoy the arts in all their various forms, but as a legislator I’ve been an arts booster, making sure they are included in our economic development and job creation strategies.  I was appointed to the Creative Economy Panel and sponsored one of the bills they recommended.  My involvement in SB 10-094 and the Art in Public Places Program gave me a new appreciation for public art and got me appointed to the art selection committee for the new Judicial Center.  On the JBC I helped the Council on the Arts avoid significant budget cuts.  I’m also proud of HB 10-1273, which strengthens art education programs in public schools.  Arts and creative industries are a big economic driver all across Colorado, and especially here in Denver.

3.  Jobs & Economic Development

State government has a role in creating economic opportunity and jobs for Coloradans.  The state is key customer for construction contractors, whether they are building or maintaining state facilities or paving and repairing Colorado’s highways.  Investments in infrastructure create construction jobs.  Our budget woes have curtailed some projects, but many are proceeding in communities around the state.  As a member of the JBC I’ve supported capital construction projects and made sure they fit in our budget.  I’ve passed legislation to increase funding for economic development incentive programs that bring new jobs to Colorado (HB 12-1360).  I’ve supported the bioscience industry in Colorado by extending their grant program (HB 11-1283) that brings highly skilled, good paying jobs to our state.  And as noted elsewhere in this list, I’ve championed job creation legislation in creative industries and new energy technologies.  Colorado government partners with the private sector to keep our economy moving forward.

2.  Criminal Justice Reforms

This topic has been my greatest passion during my first term in office.  I serve as a member of the Drug Policy Task Force of the Commission on Criminal & Juvenile Justice and have sponsored several bills drafted through this process.  I’ve championed evidence-based approaches to reducing recidivism that help drug offenders access treatment and escape lives of crime and addiction.  Drug offender sentencing and treatment reform bills have included HB 10-1352, HB 11-1064, SB 11-096, SB 12-104 and SB 12-163.  I’ve also passed smart on crime legislation that protects juveniles from sexual assaults in detention facilities (HB10-1277), corrected the application of sex offender laws to public indecency crimes (HB 10-1334), helped people with criminal records find employment after prison (HB 12-1263) and strengthened the Fourth Amendment rights of citizens during police encounters (HB10-1201).  Judicious use of the police power of the state and effective sentencing laws promote public safety, personal liberty and respect for the law.

1.  Making Civil Unions Inevitable

I have every confidence that 2013 will be the year we pass Civil Unions legislation in Colorado.  Public support for my bill grows each year.  Most people were dismayed at the extreme maneuvers that thwarted the bill in 2012 and most observers are saying that fiasco will not be repeated.  I’ve vowed to bring the bill before the legislature each year until it passes.  We’re almost there; the inevitability is palpable.  As Shakespeare wrote, “the course of true love never did run smooth,” but with persistence on our part “all shall be well.”



A Disgusting Spectacle

The lengths to which House Republican leadership went to thwart the passage of SB 2, the Civil Unions bill, were amazing and shocking.  On the evening of Tuesday, May 8, 2012, a disgusting spectacle was played out on the floor of the House of Representatives before a large audience of bill supporters, an audience that grew more impatient and angrier as night wore on.  Those who witnessed this spectacle are not likely to soon forget it.

During and since that evening, accusations have occurred that attempt to blame or distract.  This is my effort to tell the sad, sad saga of SB 2, how it got closer than ever but ultimately still came up short.  It didn’t go down in flames, but instead imploded from the pressure of House leadership’s determination to avoid bringing it to a vote before the full House of Representatives.  Everyone knew that had a vote been taken, the bill would have passed.  So the House leaders made certain no vote could occur.

The story of SB 2 begins on the first day of the 2012 legislative session, January 11.  This is the day the bill was introduced and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.  A hearing before that committee took place on February 15.  It lasted all afternoon and into the early evening.  From there the bill was referred to the Finance and then Appropriations Committee.  SB 2 was held in the Senate Appropriations Committee until mid-April.  It passed out of this committee on the same date as the budget package.  It wasn’t considered on the Senate floor until the week after the budget package was passed.  The second reading debate on SB 2 took place on the same day as the culmination of the conference committee on the budget.  It took all morning.  As a member of the JBC, I was pretty busy this entire time.

One of the things that kept me busy was attempting to recruit a Republican member of the House to sponsor the bill in that chamber.  Several House Republicans were supportive of the bill, but only a couple gave any serious thought to being the lead sponsor.  A suggestion was made that waiting until after the candidate nominating process was further along might be helpful to their decision.  Otherwise, it was easy to see an incumbent being threatened with a primary election challenge, and this made finding a willing sponsor all the more difficult.  And while we patiently waited, lawyers active with the Colorado Bar Association spent several weeks analyzing SB 2 and recommending amendments.

SB 2 passed the Senate on a vote of 23 to 12 on April 26, a Thursday.  It was not introduced in the House until the following Tuesday, May 1.  House leadership was responsible for this delay.  The hearing before the House Judiciary Committee took place on Thursday, May 3, and the bill passed on a vote of 7 to 6.  The next day, the House Finance Committee also approved the bill on a vote of 7 to 6.  The bill was next referred to the House Appropriations Committee, which heard the bill on the afternoon of Tuesday, May 8.  Before acting on SB 2, the House Appropriations Committee spent the afternoon debating several House Bills in what can only be described as a filibuster.  Because only two days remained in the regular legislative session, there was not time to comply with the constitutionally required process for passing legislation, which requires at minimum 3 days.  House Bills needed to pass the House on third reading by Tuesday to have any hope of meeting the deadline, meaning the House Bills heard in the House Appropriations Committee that afternoon were already dead.  But the committee spent hours debating them anyway.

Finally SB 2 was passed out of House Appropriations Committee on a vote of 7 to 6.  It was late in the afternoon, and the House was called back to order to resume floor work after the committee meeting had ended.  But the report from the House Appropriations Committee that indicated SB 2 had passed out of committee was not read across the desk in the House chamber.  Until that occurred, SB 2 was not on the calendar for consideration.  The House took up a resolution regarding civility in the legislature, an annual gesture of late to remind legislators to be nice to one another.  The resolution had languished on the calendar for several weeks, but this was the time chosen to bring it up.  The use of this resolution as a stall tactic was particularly ironic.

Upon completion of the debate of HJR 1020 (the civility resolution), House Majority Leader Amy Stephens moved to take up General Orders, second reading debate on bills.  Because the Appropriations Committee had not yet reported the passage of SB 2, it was not on the General Orders calendar, and instead it would have to be taken up on a Special Orders calendar, but that couldn’t happen until the committee report had been read across the desk.  When Rep. Stephens moved to proceed to General Orders, Rep. Mark Ferrandino objected, forcing a vote on the Majority Leader’s motion.  This was most unusual, as normally the Majority Leader controls the calendar.  What happened next was even more irregular, because the Majority Leader lost this motion on a vote of 32 to 32, with one Democratic member absent from the chamber.  The failure of the Majority Leader’s procedural motion sent shock waves through the House.

Assistant Majority Leader Mark Waller then repeated the motion to proceed to General Orders, and Rep. Ferrandino again objected.  A recorded vote was taken and this time the motion failed 31 to 34.  All members were present, and now two of the three Republican members who had supported SB 2 in committee were voting with the Democrats to defy the floor leaders’ procedural motions.  This was tantamount to mutiny.

All told, there were five consecutive procedural motions to proceed with General Orders that were rejected by the House.  Republican Reps. B.J. Nikkel, Don Beezley and Laura Bradford all voted with the Democrats at various times to block the floor leaders’ ability to control the calendar.  The atmosphere in the House chamber was highly charged and tensions were running high.  And the third floor gallery above the House chamber, where the public may watch the proceedings, was full of SB 2 supporters, many wearing red One Colorado t-shirts.  Most had been at the Capitol all afternoon and had sat through the tedious stall tactics in the House Appropriations Committee.  They were growing restless and were well aware of what was now happening on the House floor.

After five failed attempts to control their calendar, the floor leaders negotiated an agreement with Rep. Ferrandino.  In exchange for reading the House Appropriations Committee report across the desk, he would allow them to proceed to General Orders.  SB 2 would not be on the General Orders calendar, because having just been read across the desk it would have to be taken up in Special Orders, but because it was the next to last day of session, Senate Bills in either of these calendars had to pass second reading before midnight.  By allowing the House to proceed to General Orders, Rep. Ferrandino was making sure the House could get all its work done.  But the House leaders had other plans.

The House resolved itself into a Committee of the Whole to consider General Orders, and the committee launched into a full blown filibuster.  Each bill on the General Orders calendar was debated ad nauseum, and the tenor of the debate grew more preposterous with each passing minute.  A bill regarding trans fats in school cafeteria food became the subject of a debate that lasted over an hour, with a series of ridiculous amendments offered only to cause delay.  The clock was ticking, it was well past dinner time, and tense negotiations were taking place in the anterooms adjoining the House chamber.

By 9:00 pm the House Democrats had had enough.  Rep. Claire Levy was recognized during debate of a juvenile crime bill, and she made a motion for the committee to “rise and report.”  This was yet another mutinous act, as normally only the Majority Leader makes this motion at the completion of second reading debates.  And the motion to “rise and report” is not subject to debate.  Upon the making of this motion, the Chairman of the Committee of the Whole, Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, immediately put the committee into recess and walked off.  He did not call for a vote on this non-debatable motion, and instead left the committee in recess for over two hours.

What happened next was a descent into a chaotic and at times ugly scene.  People milled about as leaders of both parties had arguments off to the sides of the chamber.  With a non-debatable motion on the floor and the committee in recess, Assistant Majority Leader Mark Waller engaged in what might be described as part debate, part press conference with Rep. Ferrandino and the numerous members of the news media gathered at the press table in the front corner of the chamber.  With the committee in recess, the microphones were all turned off, but visitors in the gallery could hear much of what was being shouted to the crowd of reporters.  The crowd of reporters and TV cameras pressed to this front corner of the chamber.  Several shouting matches took place as some members left the floor.  Other invited visitors onto the floor, and the chamber became quite crowded.

At approximately 11:00 pm, after two hours of recess and several different impromptu press conferences at the press table, an agreement was made to call it a night.  Speaker McNulty came onto the floor to address the media.  Speaking uncharacteristically softly it was hard for the people in the gallery to hear what he was saying, but his body language made clear he was halting the process, and he kept telling reporters an “impasse” had been reached.  Reporters were firing off tough questions, but the Speaker walked off.  At this point the audience in the gallery erupted into a chorus of “Boo” and then began loudly chanting “Shame on You” for a minute or two.  The State Patrol was ordered to evict the occupants of the gallery and close it to the public.  This sort of disturbance in the gallery hadn’t happened for decades.

After the gallery was cleared by the State Patrol, the committee was brought out of recess Rep. Levy withdrew her motion to rise and report, and Rep. Stephens then made a motion to rise and report and this motion was declared passed.  The Committee of the Whole reported that it had spent all evening and had passed only 4 bills on second reading.  Its report was adopted and the House adjourned for the night.

By failing to complete second reading debates on the next to last night of the session, the House made it impossible for dozens of bills to pass.  Included on the list of collateral damage of this debacle on the House floor were bills appropriating funds for water resource infrastructure projects at reservoirs across the state, helping control unemployment premium increases for employers, authorizing new business entities, setting a per se standard for driving while impaired by marijuana, authorizing civil unions, and many others.  All died upon adjournment of the House that evening due to abuses of the legislative process.  House leadership went to extreme lengths to avoid bringing SB 2 to the floor and in the process damaged the integrity of the legislative process.  No rules were broken, but the institution was dishonored and a disgusting spectacle overtook the people’s House.  It was a scene I don’t think I can ever forget, and I never want to see repeated.

All of this to avoid the passage of one bill…

A Special Session to deal with the aftermath of this debacle will begin on Monday, May 14.  The agenda includes Civil Unions, as well as a handful of the bills that were unfortunate enough to be caught in the crossfire Tuesday night.

The press coverage of this story has been cursory, but the editorial response fairly stern.  Here’s a small sampling:

Editorial: Will McNulty Do the Right Thing?

McNulty a Political Lightning Rod

Speaker’s Decision May Echo In Fall

Editorial: If Civil Unions Stall, Call Special Session

Civil Unions Update – SB 2

Lots of people have been asking what’s going on with SB 2, the bill to create Civil Unions in Colorado.  As you probably recall, SB 2 had a dramatic hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 15.  Dozens of people testified in favor of the bill, often with compelling and emotional stories about their lives, their loves and their losses, and how SB 2 would impact them.  Even more people sat in the audience wearing red shirts, jackets or ties as a symbol of solidarity.  The Old Supreme Court Chamber at the State Capitol was packed full, standing room only.

In addition to the many who testified in favor of the bill, about ten people testified against the bill.  Most of these were representatives of certain religious organizations.  Yes, someone cited Leviticus.  But it is important to note that members of the clergy also testified in favor of SB 2, as diverse views were presented from diverse congregations.  Many community organizations sent representatives to offer their support, including the Colorado Bar Association, the ACLU, the Anti-Defamation League and the League of Women Voters.  Business leaders also offered their support.  Republican organizations such as Coloradans for Freedom and College Republicans brought a refreshing new perspective as they spoke out for Civil Unions.

SB 2 was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a vote of 5 to 2.  Sen. Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) joined the four Democratic women senators on the committee in voting in favor of the bill.

The very next day SB 2 was heard in the Senate Finance Committee, as Senate rules required the bill to be referred to this committee and that Thursday was the deadline for committee action on early bills.  The bill passed on a party-line vote of 4 to 3 and was then referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.  I’m the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and there is a separate set of deadlines for all bills sent to this committee.  Bills in Appropriations have some impact on the state budget, and most bills referred here must wait until the annual budget bill is passed.  (You can read more about the fiscal impact by clicking here.)  SB 2 is likely to remain pending before this committee until the end of March or early April.  After it passes out of Appropriations SB 2 will be debated on the Senate floor, it will pass, and it will then be sent to the House.

In the meantime, support for SB 2 continues to build.  Senators are receiving cards and letters, emails and phone calls each day asking us to pass SB 2.  The list of newspapers editorializing in favor of SB 2 also continues to grow.  In addition to the Denver Post, we’ve seen positive editorial endorsements from the Durango Herald, the Greeley Tribune, the Fort Collins Coloradoan, and the Glenwood Springs Independent.  There are several other newspapers that endorsed the bill last year that I’m expecting to hear from in the coming weeks.

Momentum is on our side.  “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.”  Stay tuned.


Click here to read the blog post I wrote about SB 2 on January 21, 2012.

Click here for the One Colorado website where you can join their efforts to pass Civil Unions in Colorado.



SB 2 – Civil Unions

I’m very passionate about a lot of issues, but no bill that I’ve carried has sparked the amount of passion as Civil Unions.  It was heartbreaking to watch the House Judiciary Committee kill this bill in 2011, and immediately afterwards I vowed to bring back the legislation each year until it is finally passed.  I’m cautiously hopeful that 2012 will be the year.

SB 2 was introduced on the first day of the legislative session.  It differs only slightly from the bill I introduced last year, mostly small improvements to the drafting and a correction where one word had been omitted.  It has been referred once again to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which last year approved the bill on a vote of 6 to 3.  The Senate then passed the bill on a vote of 23 to 12.

As authorized by SB 2, Civil Unions would allow any 2 unmarried adults, regardless of gender, to form a legally-recognized, committed relationship subject to most of the provisions in state law that apply to married couples.  The bill recites our current constitutional ban on marriages between persons of the same sex and clearly states that Civil Unions are not marriages.  I readily admit that they are not equal to marriage and confer fewer rights on the couples that choose them.

A legally-recognized relationship matters.  It matters a great deal.  Legal recognition means that Colorado laws will apply, which is especially important at various times in everyone’s life, such as medical emergencies, the birth of a child, the end of a relationship, end-of-life decisions, and death.  Whether an ambulance is on its way to the emergency room, decisions are being made about placement in an Alzheimer’s unit at a nursing home, or plans for burial or cremation are being carried out, a legally-recognized relationship ensures that the person who cares most, who you most want to be there and make decisions, will be first in line to exercise powers controlled by state law.

SB 2 is quite detailed and carefully crafted to spell out all the provisions in state law that will apply to couples in a Civil Union.  I like to point out that SB 2 makes very little new law – it creates forms and procedures for forming a Civil Union – but instead makes applicable the provisions of existing law to a class of persons previously excluded from their protections and benefits.

SB 2 is about inclusion and opportunity.  It empowers personal responsibility.  It creates a bond of commitment between two people that only legal proceedings under the provisions of Colorado law may set aside.  It gives access to important legal protections and basic legal rights that are often taken for granted by those that have them and desperately needed by those without them.  It will strengthen families and protect children across Colorado.

Last year Rep. Mark Ferrandino was the House sponsor of the Civil Unions bill.  This year I’ve introduced the bill without listing a House sponsor in the hopes of finding a Republican member of the House to step up and take the lead.  So far those I’ve asked have declined, but I’m holding out hope.  A new group of Republican leaders has formed to support this type of legislation (Coloradans for Freedom), and I’m hopeful that a brave and willing Republican sponsor can yet be found.  If not, Rep. Ferrandino stands ready to carry the bill again.  If it makes it to the floor of the House of Representatives we know that more than a handful of Republicans will join their Democratic colleagues to pass the bill, but it could once again be bottled-up in committee and die a cruel death.  This will be one of the most closely watched bills of the session, so stay tuned.

To get more involved in the effort to pass Civil Unions in Colorado visit www.One-Colorado.org


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