Rep. Colin Larson June 5, 2020

Rep. Colin Larson, a Littleton Republican, reading a report on egg industry processing during the June 5 discussion of a bill regulating egg dealers. 

When the General Assembly meets on Saturday, that's pretty unusual. When they meet on a Sunday, that's unheard of.

But beginning at noon Sunday, the House Health & Insurance Committee is holding a rarest-of-rare Sunday hearing on a topic that's generated plenty of controversy in the past two sessions: vaccinations. 

The Sunday session only adds fuel to the fire.

Senate Bill 163 is an attempt to boost Colorado's poor track record of immunizations by setting a statewide standard of 95% of children immunized.

It also strips away all exemptions except for those based on religious beliefs, "whose teachings are opposed to immunizations or a personal belief that is opposed to immunizations."

Exemptions must be provided in writing from a healthcare provider, according to the measure, or the parent or guardian go through an online informational course produced by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to qualify for an exemption.

As one might expect, the bill drew hundreds of angry anti-vaccination advocates to the state Capitol when it went through the Senate back in February.

When this week's hearing was announced, it produced outrage for House Republicans, who announced via Twitter Friday they would "slow the session down."

To House Democrats, they said, "you have thrown an incredibly controversial bill on the committee schedule on a Sunday afternoon and shutting down debate."

Saturday, the caucus held a protest on the west steps of the Capitol; a Sunday protest of anti-vaccination advocates brought hundreds, but it was dwarfed by the Black Lives Matter protest in Civic Center Park, which drew thousands.

Democratic House Majority Leader Alec Garnett of Denver told the House they'd try to get done early on Friday. 

But House Republicans kept their word on slowing things down, which led to an all-day session that didn't break until after 5 p.m. It wasn't only about the vaccination bill; under a mantra of "fast, friendly and free," Democrats had pledged to work on the budget, school finance and COVID-related measures. Republicans watched as dozens of their measures got the axe, And then Democrats began introducing on paid leave, reinsurance, workplace liability reforms and law enforcement accountability. 

On Friday, in response, Republicans read newspaper articles, histories, and even a lengthy discussion of eggs. Five bills — mostly short — were read at length. 

All five were non-controversial, with strong bipartisan votes. 

The bills included one requiring doctors to disclose discipline about sex offense; three others were sunsets — measures that reauthorize regulations of licensed occupations or programs — including private investigators and egg dealers, and the Colorado Seed Act. The last was a bill on modifying state regulations around perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS. The bill is a bipartisan one, sponsored by the Colorado Springs delegation.

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And then Republicans got up and spoke at length about each bill up for a final vote, mostly in support of the measure. 

Final votes are usually relatively quick events, but the first bill on requiring doctors to disclose discipline about sex offenses took more than a half hour. 

That included comments from Rep. Larry Liston of Colorado Springs, who said he had little knowledge about the medical profession, but then went into a long list of family members in the medical profession.

After the first bill, each discussion on succeeding bills took even longer, going past two hours, on measures Republicans largely supported.

"I"m not here to waste your time," said Rep. Richard Holtorf, an Akron Republican, before reading an article on private investigators, a measure with an hour-long debate, and that passed on a vote of 48 to 15.

That included an attempt by Liston to name the bill the "Tom Selleck/Magnum PI Private Investigator Act," calling Selleck the person most responsible for publicizing private investigators. Rep. Steve Humphrey of Ault asked for a "no" vote. It's an offense to Adrian Monk (another TV show featuring a PI), he said. The House voted down Liston's request for a third-reading amendment.

The PFAS bill, House Bill 1119, went even longer, clocking in at nearly 100 minutes. Liston offered a history of PFAS, including his father's service in World War II as a bomber pilot in the Pacific. He went into some length on how those planes worked before tying it back to the bill. 

A discussion on the Colorado Seed Act lasted more than two hours, adding a tactic to reconsider a previously-rejected amendment to the measure. 

Then there was the egg dealer bill, a discussion that went on for close to three hours. That included articles on how to raise chickens, federal regulations, the importance of eggs and which states produce the most eggs.

"We want to be number one," said Rep. Dave Williams of Colorado Springs. "It's unfortunate we're not."

With the sound of Black Lives Matter protesters in the background, a report on the egg industry's processing and transportation costs, shared by Liston and Rep. Colin Larson of Littleton, lasted until Larson just started laughing and quit. The two sides negotiated a compromise on the vaccination bill and that ended the filibuster.

After that finale, the rest of the bills were passed without further delaying tactics.

Update: this story was clarified to add other reasons for the filibuster.

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