Senate reading clerk 1172

Senate reading clerk Andrew Carpenter reading (as fast as he can) House Bill 1172. Note the empty seats in the Senate chamber.

Remember the midnight gerrymander of 2003?

Senate Republicans, fed up with the speed by which some bills — Senate Bill 181 in particular — are moving through the Legislature ground the Senate to a halt Monday.

The bill, which deals with major changes to the regulation of the state's oil and gas industry, was introduced on March 1 and had its first major committee hearing just four days later. By Friday of last week, it had marched through two more Senate committee hearings dealing with its financial impact.

The bill is scheduled for Senate debate Tuesday.

It's the most striking example of the frustration that Republicans in the 2019 General Assembly are expressing regarding the speed by which Democrats are moving major legislation. 

On Monday, Republican Sen. John Cooke of Greeley, whose Weld County district includes some of the state's most lucrative oil and gas activity, asked that the Senate clerk read at length House Bill 1172. He's the sponsor of that bill, which is largely a technical recodification of a section of state law. 

It's the length that's put the Senate at a standstill: 2,023 pages.

Reading clerks in the House and Senate can rattle off pages pretty quickly, but it will take hours for the Senate's reading clerk to read the entire measure, line by line and word for word.

In a statement, the Republican Senate leadership said "[r]epeated efforts to get Democrats in the General Assembly to slow down and appropriately vet, debate, and discuss these massive pieces of legislation that threaten billions in state revenue, hundreds of thousands of jobs, and the Colorado way of life have fallen on deaf ears.

"... If they won’t slow this process down, we will."

In addition to Senate Bill 181, Republicans are complaining about the process for two other measures: House Bill 1177, the red flag bill, and Senate Bill 182, which would repeal the death penalty in Colorado.

But it's the speed by which the oil and gas measure which has moved that prompted Monday's action more than any other.

"It's not the stakeholder process" that's necessary for this kind of legislation, said Senate GOP spokesman Sage Naumann.

By noon, the reader, Andrew Carpenter, had gotten through about 60 pages of the bill, and a second reader was brought in to help. It may take more than that, depending on how long Cooke decides to let it go. He is the only one who can cancel the reading.

In 2003, when Republicans rammed through a congressional redistricting bill in the last three days of the session, Democrats reacted by challenging all kinds of rules and asking for a handful of bills be read in their entirety, including the redistricting measure, Senate Bill 352. That bill was only 28 pages. 

At one point, a row of Senate staffers simultaneously read from the bill to move it through the process. 

That, so far, has not happened in Monday's slowdown. Senate President Leroy Garcia of Pueblo told Colorado Politics that he committed to a fair process at the beginning of the 2019 session and he is willing to let the reading go on for a while.

Notably, Cooke left the chamber shortly after asking the bill to be read at length, as did all but a handful of senators. 

By 1:15 p.m., the reading had been taken over by a computer. The computer, according to Anna Staver at the Post, can read at about 650 words per minute, as compared to the reader, who can do it at about 150 words a minute. The reading doesn't have to be understandable, and it isn't.

At 3 p.m.. Garcia issued his own statement. "The reading of the 2000 page bill holds up floor work on important bills to address the bread and butter issues facing Coloradans...Coloradans sent us here to work hard," Garcia said. "We have done and will continue to do that - even if it means working nights and weekends. We will always respect the process and work within the rules, but at the end of the day, we are going to do the work people sent us here to do."

Senate staffers said they expect the bill reading to conclude sometime after 3:30 p.m. but by 4:00 p.m. there was no sign of ending. 

And if one computer/robotic voice is good, two must be better, right? A second computer program started reading off another section of the bill sometime around 4:20 p.m. At one point, five computer programs were reading the bill.

The reading finally wrapped up around 5:30 p.m.

Republican Sen. Minority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker filed a letter of protest shortly after, claiming that five computers reading the bill wasn't sufficient to satisfy the laws around bill readings and that no one could understand a word of it (true).

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