Colorado civil union backers push for final vote, debate
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER – Civil unions are closer than ever of becoming law in Colorado and supporters are bracing for last-minute drama in the Republican-controlled House, where the GOP is divided over the issue.
Lawmakers adjourn at midnight Wednesday and must take a final vote on civil unions before then, or the bill dies.
If passed, it would underscore the dramatic shift in opinion in a state where voters banned gay marriage in 2006, while rejecting domestic partnerships for same-sex couples that same year. Two Republicans have joined Democrats in passing the bill out of two House committees.
The bill needs to clear a final committee Tuesday, and at least one Republican there, Rep. Cheri Gerou, has pledged support. That would be enough to get the bill to the full House for debate and initial vote.
Republicans have a 33-32 voting edge in the House, but the bill has enough votes to clear the chamber. The Democratic-led Senate already passed the bill.
“We’ve known all along that there’s more than enough votes to pass this bill off the House floor,” said Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman, a gay lawmaker who successfully carried the bill in the Senate. “It was merely a question of whether it could get there. It looks like it can get there this year.”
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper supports the bill. If the legislation passes, Colorado would join more than a dozen states that have either civil unions or allow gay marriage. Hawaii and Delaware are the most recent states that enacted civil unions.
The legislation would give same-sex couples rights similar to marriage, including enhanced inheritance and parental rights, and the ability to be involved in partner’s medical decisions.
But the timing of the bill in the final hours of the legislative session has supporters worried. Democrats are concerned Republicans will use procedural tactics to run out the clock on the bill. House Republicans control when bills are scheduled and that gives them leeway over bills they disagree with.
Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty, who opposes the bill, said Democrats have themselves to blame for taking so long in the Senate to pass the bill to the House in late April. McNulty accused Democrats of waiting so long with the bill to force a standoff for political gain.
“To me the Democrats have done both the proponents of this bill and opponents of this bill a great disservice by politicizing it,” he said. “We all know that it’s a heated public policy issue to begin with and with the Senate Democrats sitting on it for 110 days, they’ve really turned it into a manufactured crisis here at the end of session.”
Rep. Mark Ferrandino, the Democrats’ leader in the House and a gay lawmaker sponsoring the bill there, disagreed with McNulty, saying the reason the bill took so long in the Senate is because supporters were trying to get Republican support. Ferrandino said he tried to persuade a Republican to carry the legislation in the House, and potential supporters said they needed more time.
“The manufactured crisis is one he’s manufacturing,” Ferrandino said of McNulty.
Ferrandino said he wants the bill be debated on its merits.
“I want it to be either passed or killed by the vote, not by shenanigans being played,” he said.
Republican lawmakers are expected to offer amendments to the bill if it reaches the floor.
“I know that folks have concerns about the ramifications of a bill like this on churches and religious institutions,” McNulty. “I certainly understand that. And the other thing that folks have concerns about is the effect that this will have on marriage and I suspect that those are some things that folks are working on.”
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Students would no longer be required to take the SAT or ACT when applying to Colorado’s public colleges under proposed legislation that aims to make higher education more accessible to low-income and first-generation college applicants who often don’t do as well on standardized tests.