Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert

 Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert (file)

A judge has sided with Colorado Senate Republicans in an ongoing dispute with majority Democrats over the fast pace of legislation opposed by the GOP.

Denver District Court Judge David Goldberg on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order at the request of three Republican state senators --  Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker and Sens. John Cooke of Greeley and Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs -- to block an attempt by majority Democrats to thwart a Republican tactic aimed at slowing down the pace of bills such Senate Bill 181, a revamp of oil and gas regulations.

In addition to Senate Bill 181, Republicans are complaining about the process for two other measures: House Bill 1177, the red flag bill allowing a court to order seizure of guns from a person deemed a threat, and Senate Bill 182, which would repeal the death penalty in Colorado.

At issue was whether the Republicans could force the out-loud reading of a lengthy bill on the Senate floor as a way to delay action on another piece of legislation -- a tactic allowed under Senate rules -- and whether Democrats could sidestep that maneuver by using computers to read the bill more rapidly than a human could, so rapidly as to be unintelligible.

Holbert, Cooke and Gardner had requested the temporary order in a complaint, naming state Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Democrat, and Senate Secretary Cindi Markwell.

Goldberg's temporary order says Democrats must allow a bill to be read "in an intelligible fashion."

The temporary order will remain in effect until the judge holds a hearing on March 19 on whether to make it permanent.

The trio alleged that Garcia and Markwell refused to let a 2,023-page bill -- House Bill 1172, an uncontroversial and mostly technical measure entitled "Title 12 Recodification And Reorganization" of which Gardner and Cooke are sponsors -- to be read in an understandable  fashion on Monday. They said that the bill had to be read over two consecutive days. 

The two-day reading was intended to slow down progress on Senate Bill 181, the oil and gas regulation bill that has had Republicans howling in outrage over the speed by which the measure is moving through the Senate. It was introduced March 1 and heard in three committee hearings last week.

The reading of HB 1172 took more than seven hours and would have taken longer had five computers not eventually read different parts of the bill at the same time.

The simultaneous computerized reading of a portion of the bill "made a mockery of the Colorado Constitution by flaunting a commonsense rule that legislation must be read in full on two separate days before voted upon to become law," according to the GOP complaint.

"The defendants have instead conjured up a cacophony of five computers simultaneously 'reading' bill text, and at high -- unintelligible -- speed. This runs roughshod over both the text and the spirit behind the reading requirement of the Colorado Constitution. Such an intentional violation of Constitutional process guarantees must be remedied by the independent judicial branch of government."

Cooke and Gardner, the bill's sponsors, asked the Senate secretary to have the bill read in an intelligible manner, but she rejected the request, according to the complaint.

The state Constitution does not require that a bill be read in an intelligible manner, only that it has to be read. A separate Senate rule allows for the reading of the journal at length. Those rules do not apply to amendments, committee reports, messages from the other chambers or the governor, and the like.

Garcia issued a statement in response Tuesday afternoon, saying, "When I accepted the gavel, I said that the people of Colorado did not elect us to engage in political gamesmanship. In that spirit, I have given every bill a fair hearing and have been committed to working across the aisle.

"But Senate Republicans have decided to employ unprecedented partisan tactics, abuse taxpayer dollars and waste time that could be spent working for the people of Colorado. This political gamesmanship is more fitting of Washington, D.C., than Colorado — we are better than this.

"It is not too late. My door is open, and my colleagues are welcome to discuss how we can come together to ensure we pass the best policy for Coloradans - like we were elected to do.”

That's not an invitation that was extended Monday, according to Holbert, who told Colorado Politics Tuesday that no one from the Senate majority reached out to him during the seven-hour reading of the bill. That's what was missing, he said: an opportunity to sit down and work out their differences.

Reading a bill at length can be used as a delaying tactic, Holbert admitted. "Yesterday with the computers reading it, it was sort of clicks and pops. I couldn't hear words."

In 2003, with the House, Senate and governor's office under Republican control, Republicans pushed through a bill in the last three days of the session that would redraw congressional maps. Democrats asked that the 28-page bill be read at length, and Republicans set up at least 10 people, all who had different pages of the bill, who read the bill out loud. It wasn't intelligible, either.

As for HB 1172, it was laid over Monday afternoon, to be taken up again for a voice vote on Wednesday.

Then Gardner asked that the journal be amended -- twice -- to note that the bill was not read at length, at least not how he defined it. And then he asked for a vote on the amendments, which both failed. That took the better part of an hour.

Meanwhile, in an emergency meeting, the legislature's Committee on Legal Services, which normally approves the hiring (and paying of) attorneys for members of the General Assembly when they're in need of such services, approved a request from Garcia to cover his legal costs in the matter.

The panel agreed to do so, and hired Democratic go-to attorney Mark Grueskin to represent Garcia and Markwell at the March 19 hearing.

It's unlikely that Senate Republicans will be able to avail themselves of the same services, given that the General Assembly pays for defendant legal costs, not for plaintiffs.

In a statement after the legal services meeting, vice-chair Rep. Leslie Herod of Denver blasted what she called divisive "gamesmanship" and a waste of taxpayer money.

"This is clearly the GOP trying to bring Washington style political tactics to Colorado," Herod said. "It’s Trumpian to throw a tantrum when you don’t get your way."

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