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Senate leaders scrap over rules, gun bill

4:07 PM, Jan 14, 2014   |    comments
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DENVER - If you were looking for less vitriol in the state capitol this year, Tuesday morning brought a letdown.

Leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties in the senate went toe-to-toe on Tuesday, each accusing the other of playing politics in their interpretation of the handling of a proposed gun bill.

At the end of it all, Democrats promised the bill would be introduced this week and said they were never planning to stall it in the first place, but the fireworks that flew set a sour tone for the session ahead.

In a floor speech Tuesday, the leader of Colorado's Senate Republicans publicly denounced the Democratic majority, alleging that inappropriate delay tactics were being used to snuff out debate over gun control.

The Senate President countered that the GOP was attempting to make political hay out of a very ordinary process used to handle deadlines for the bill.

At issue is a bill being drafted by incoming Sen. George Rivera (R-Pueblo,) which aims to repeal last year's new laws expanding background checks and imposing a fee for those checks.

Under the GOP leadership's interpretation of Senate rules, the bill should have made its way to the Secretary of the Senate on Monday to be "read across the desk," a process that gives legislation standing as a bill and assigns it to a committee to be heard.

But as of Tuesday, that bill had not made it to the secretary, and the GOP leaders say they were shocked to learn that the pending bill had been delayed by Democratic leaders, with a form that waives all deadlines for the bill until April 16.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman accused his Democratic counterparts of "misusing the rules, to vindictively postpone a legislator's bill," taking the Democrats' actions to mean that they intended to thwart debate on gun issues by delaying the bill until the spring.

But Senate President Morgan Carroll says the GOP is trying to stir up controversy where none exists, or in other words, political theater.

"I'm hard pressed to call it anything else," Carroll said. "I never heard anything about this until today."

Carroll added that she and Cadman have been in regular conversations with each other since the start of session.

Carroll says Cadman should have raised his concerns with her before publicly condemning the process.

"All we've done is extend a courtesy to members bringing bills that are going to have a high volume of people to participate," Carroll said.

The deadline extension for Rivera's bill is intended to allow flexibility to schedule a hearing on the issue without being crowded by other pending bills. Carroll says she wants contentious issues like gun policy to have enough time to allow anybody who wants to comment the opportunity to do so.

All bills filed on time are supposed to get a public committee hearing, but as a practical matter any bill attempting to roll back gun control is expected to meet a quick death at the end of its first hearing.

Majority leadership gets to decide which committee will hear all bills, ensuring the ability to kill bills regardless of the minority's standpoint.

"You have the constitutional right to stop our bills," Cadman said. "But you have no right to silence our voices. "

Carroll told reporters that she planned to give Rivera's bill to the Secretary of the Senate at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, which would set it up to be assigned to committee on Wednesday.

When informed of this, Cadman remained deeply skeptical.

"I can't speak for what would have happened if we hadn't said something," Cadman said. "But she never talked to me."

Cadman pointed to rule Senate Rule 23B, which spells out a process for bill sponsors to obtain deadline extensions like the one granted to Rivera's bill.

In this case, the bill was given the extension with just the signatures of Democratic leaders, they say because of how hot the gun issue is.

Cadman says Rivera never asked for an extension. The rules he cited do not spell out that the majority can't act to grant an extension without the sponsor's request, but it smacked of abuse to Cadman.

"If the minority party needs a favor from the majority party, we'll ask for it," Cadman said.

As for the introduction date, Carroll's staff says it simply follows the deadline dates given to it by the nonpartisan legislative legal advisors and the Senate secretary.

Regardless, the extension on Rivera's bill render all deadlines moot.

9NEWS will bring you updates on the gun debate as it continues to develop in this year's legislative session.

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