DENVER – Republicans in a Colorado Senate committee kicked off the first special session in Colorado in five years by killing one of two measures brought forth by Democrats aimed at fixing a bill-drafting mistake that left several special districts in the state without the ability to collect on a state marijuana tax.
On a party-line vote, the Senate Transportation Committee struck down the first measure, continuing to push Republicans’ stance that the special session is unnecessary and that the tax fix needs to be sent to voters.
But shortly afterward, the House Finance Committee passed its version of the bill 8-4, which Republican Rep. Dan Thurlow voted for along with Democrats in the committee. It then passed its second full reading in the House.
The votes came after more back-and-forth between Republicans and Democrats over whether the special session was necessary, after testimony from some of the special districts affected, and after some TABOR specialists testified on whether the tax matter needed to go to voters.
The head of the Regional Transportation District, which faces the largest losses under the mistake of around $500,000 a month, said that it might have to cut service on some lines and possibly increase fares in 2019 in a fix isn’t found.
House Majority Leader KC Becker, who is sponsoring the legislation, continued to claim, as has Gov. John Hickenlooper, that the mistake was a simple error missed by both parties while they were drafting the landmark Senate Bill 267, which shored up rural hospital funding among several other budgetary measures.
“We made a mistake, but we are not instating a new tax,” Becker told the House Finance Committee, adding in a written statement to Denver7 that Republicans’ stance on the session was “politics at its worst.”
But Republicans continued to hammer home their TABOR point.
“TABOR’s wording is clear: Voters must approve ‘a tax policy change directly causing a net tax revenue gain to any district…And we found no fine print or footnotes indicating that the rule is waived when bill-writing mistakes occur,” the Senate GOP account tweeted.
But at an afternoon news conference, Hickenlooper continued to push back at those claims.
“This was a mistake. I think the one thing we’ve certainly established today is this was a mistake,” Hickenlooper said of the drafting error made on the bill, noting “everyone missed it.”
And though the session is moving ahead, Hickenlooper made clear his disappointment in how discussions have gone so far.
“I didn’t see where, necessarily, there would be a compromise needed,” Hickenlooper said. “I thought this would be a bipartisan solution since everyone agreed it was a mistake.”
If the bill ends up moving along beyond its second House reading and passes a third reading, it would go over to the Senate. If the Senate were to pass the House bill as-is, it would then go to Hickenlooper’s desk.
But committees or the full floor could amend the bill, and if it passed the full Senate floor in that case, it would go back to the House for concurrence before moving to Hickenlooper for a signature.
Special sessions must take at least three days in Colorado. This session is expected to cost around $25,000 per day, which the special districts initially said they would foot.
Editor's Note: Senate President Kevin Grantham started off the session with a somber reminder of the massacre in Las Vegas that happened overnight, bringing a moment of bipartisan discourse. He said he had family members at the concert, but that they were “safe and sound” after the shooting.
“If this morning wasn’t a reminder that there are more important things, and more crucial things, in this world than what is going on here today, then I don’t know what is,” Grantham said. “I know our thoughts and our prayers are out for all the families, victims, those that are in Las Vegas, those that were visiting, those at the event. The tragedy that is going on their right now is unfathomable.”
Democrats responded by thanking Grantham in a tweet:
Hickenlooper also said to start off his news conference that he'd spoken with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval about the shooting, and offered his support. Hickenlooper was governor during the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, in which 12 people died and 70 were injured.