In Colorado’s split legislature, with opposing parties running the two chambers, you hear a lot about bills that are doomed from the start. They typically represent hobby-horse issues for the party in charge of one chamber and are routed to kill committees as soon as they reach the chamber where the other party rules the roost. Think Republican gun bills or Democratic green bills. Like a red flag to a bull.
But what about when bills that don’t seem to bear the stigma of either party’s ideology meet an early death anyway on a party-line vote in a kill committee — for no apparent reason other than that the sponsor was a member of the minority party? No profound policy objections from the ruling party; just a simple no vote. Is it really only because of naked partisanship? Say it isn’t so!
Consider the fate of an innocuous bill this week sponsored by state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, in the Republican Senate’s State, Veterans and Military Affairs committee. The kill committee. It was Zenzinger’s first bill of the session.
Senate Bill 92 addressed a recruitment issue faced by law enforcement agencies checking the backgrounds of job applicants. A related measure that passed last year had assured immunity from liability for public agencies, like police departments, that share personnel files on past and present employees who apply for for jobs at other agencies. Zenzinger’s bill extended the immunity to private-sector employers where law enforcement job applicants once worked. The idea is to give police departments, sheriff’s offices and the like as much access as possible when conducting background checks on law officers they recruit.
On a party-line vote, the committee’s Republican majority rejected Zenzinger’s bill on Monday. A press release by Senate Democrats that afternoon complained that the committee’s Republicans cast their votes “Without voicing any public objection.” The press release also noted:
Zenzinger’s bill had the explicit endorsement of Colorado Council of Police Chiefs, County Sheriffs of Colorado, Arvada Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and Colorado Municipal League.
No one testified against the proposal. And legislative policy staff had determined it posed no fiscal impact and wouldn’t require public money to implement
No opposition. No fiscal impact. Yet, no explanation.
Could it be that the die was cast long before Monday’s vote — in fact, last Nov. 8? Zenzinger is a freshman, but not exactly. She originally was appointed to her District 19 seat in 2013 and then lost it to Republican Laura Woods in the 2014 general election. Last year, after a high-stakes, bruising battle by both parties, Zenzinger took the seat back in a close race. The GOP continues to hold the Senate by a precarious one-vote-margin. Rest assured Republicans continue to view Zenzinger’s swing district in the northwest Denver metro area as fertile ground, and they’ll no doubt be back in force when she is up for re-election.
A time-honored tactic in such circumstances is for the ruling party to contain such members whose seats are coveted. No point in allowing them to rack up early legislative successes that might wind up as bragging points on campaign mailers supporting the member’s re-election.
Is that what happened here?
State Affairs committee Chair Ray Scott, the ever-jovial and plain-spoken Grand Junction Republican, was forthright when the question was put to him Tuesday. He said the bill was an unwarranted expansion of last year’s legislation, which had been sufficient.
“They brought us no data to support going a step further,” he said.
So, why wasn’t any of that brought out in the committee hearing?
Scott said that wasn’t necessarily unusual.
“I can think of hundreds of bills that get killed without us sitting there and bloviating about it,” he said.
What would he say to Democrats who nevertheless smelled partisan gamesmanship in the vote?
“I hear this sort of thing all the time,” the veteran lawmaker said. “If she wanted to be in the majority, she should have run for the House. Elections have consequences.”
And there you have it. Another lesson in Colorado politics 101.