In a legislative session in which the House minority caucus’ floor actions were largely defined by efforts to slow progress on the majority’s agenda, the session's final bill gave House Republicans one last chance to play the hits.
Rep. Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, tried to have the landmark greenhouse gas emissions legislation read at length but was thwarted on procedural grounds. A series of GOP members read elements of the bill from the well. Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, was warned about toeing the decorum line by Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver. Rep. Andy Pico, R-Colorado Springs, questioned the legitimacy of human-induced climate change. And in the end, the last bill of the session passed on the back of Democratic votes.
The debate on House Bill 1266 carried on just past 7:30 p.m., some 3.5 hours after Senate lawmakers adjourned their chamber for the session. But with the end in sight, House Republicans said they weren’t ready to wrap up for the year without a fight.
GOP lawmakers raised concerns on the policy of the bill, but their issue centered primarily on the process by which it came before them. The bill originally cleared the House last month on a 38-24 party-line vote with three Democrats excused. But when it reappeared before the chamber 26 days later, it was a vastly different piece of legislation.
The measure was originally aimed at environmental justice via the creation of an ombudsperson and an advisory committee, and those elements remained. But end-of-session maneuvering saw elements of Senate Bill 200, what was once seen as the session’s landmark emissions bill, added at the last moment.
That legislation from Sens. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, and Rep. Dominique Jackson, D-Aurora, was a wide-ranging bill designed primarily to make the Air Quality Control Commission the “program manager of meeting our greenhouse gas reduction goals.”
Those goals were established by the state’s landmark climate action plan, put in place by legislation passed in 2019, seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26% by 2025, at least 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050, based on 2005 levels. But some Democratic lawmakers and climate activists worry that a “road map” to meeting the 2050 goal released by Polis earlier this year could fall short without clear, enforceable standards.
Implementing those standards across five sectors of the economy – transportation, oil and gas, electric, industry and buildings – was one of the primary goals of the original legislation. One problem, though: Gov. Jared Polis was not on board and the bill stalled when it reached the Senate floor after the governor told the Gazette editorial board he would veto the legislation if it reached his desk.
After weeks of negotiation, Winter and Jackson decided to move in a different direction, and yesterday added elements of the original bill into HB 1266 via an amendment the Westminster Democrat described as “the baby of Senate Bill 200.” Along with those two, the bill was carried by Sen. Janet Buckner and Rep. Mike Weissman, both Aurora Democrats.
Among other things, that 26-page amendment added measurability and equity goals laid out in SB 200, as well as some of enforceability mechanisms. To bring the Polis administration on board though, the bill sponsors dropped the enforcement provisions on the transportation and building sectors. According to Colorado Energy Office Director Will Toor, that change addressed Polis’ “biggest discomfort” and was enough to bring the administration on board.
But Republican lawmakers in both chambers cried foul as the revamped bill sped through two Senate committee hearings, second and third readings in the Senate and reconsideration in the House in 31 hours.
“I just need to put on the record what a grotesque abuse of the legislative process this is,” said Rep. Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs.
Minority Leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, also railed against the process.
“No one wants to be here right now,” he said. “The reason why we’re standing here right now is because it’s wrong ... . Shame on us if we accept this is what our institution becomes in the last days of the session.”
Republicans used nearly every trick they could think to drag out the debate. They sought to reset the 10-minute-per-person time cap on debate with a variety of motions. They sought to adhere to the original version of the bill, a move that would effectively kill it. They sought to send it back to committee in the name of good governance and process. But in the face of a 17-vote deficit, they were delaying the inevitable.
After Republican members spent three hours exhausting their arguments, the chamber voted 37-27 to pass the bill, with Democratic Reps. Don Valdez of La Jara, Adrienne Benavidez of Denver and Majority Leader Daneya Esgar of Pueblo joining their GOP colleagues in opposition.
The bill now goes to Polis’ desk and lawmakers go back home until the next legislative session convenes in January.