20190411-Colwell-CoPo_party_2AC9471.jpg HOLBERT (copy)

Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert addresses the crowd at the Colorado Politics party at Ironworks in Denver on April 11.

Senate Democrats in the Colorado General Assembly have appealed a Denver District Court order that barred them from using computers to speed up reading a lengthy bill, thwarting what they saw as a delaying tactic by Senate Republicans.

Judge David Goldberg of Denver District Court initially granted a temporary injunction against Senate President Leroy Garcia of Pueblo and Secretary of the Senate Cindi Markwell in March.

Senate Republicans used motions to read lengthy bills out loud as a way of slowing down the Senate process during the 2019 session while it was considering legislation opposed by the GOP. They made that request a total of 18 times, either for reading a bill at length or for reading the previous day's journal at length.

The injunction sought by Senate Republicans was over the reading of House Bill 1172, a 2,023-page bill that Senate Republicans asked to have read at length during a second reading debate on March 11. The bill was a technical recodification of statutes dealing with professions and occupations.

At first, the Senate reading clerk, Andrew Carpenter, spent about 3-1/2 reading the bill. After that, Markwell directed Senate nonpartisan staff to set up a bank of five computers, all reading out loud through a computer program different sections of the bill simultaneously. It took a total of seven hours to get through the entire reading. 

Senate Republicans filed a lawsuit against the Democrats on March 13, asking for an temporary restraining order. Goldberg granted it the following day, and held a hearing on the matter on March 19.

In his March 19 ruling, Goldberg stated "The court does not perceive this issue to be a political question." That refers to the political question doctrine, contained through a series of rulings made by the U.S. Supreme Court that says some political questions are so "politically charged that federal courts, which are typically viewed as the apolitical branch of government, should not hear the issue."

Goldberg wrote that "using multiple computers to read simultaneously different portions of a bill, any bill, at 650 words per minute is not within legitimate limits. The court was unable to discern a single word from the tape played during the court proceeding. To 'read' the bill, which is a constitutional requisite, in such a manner renders it a nullity."

The injunction granted by Goldberg became permanent on May 8, according to Denver District Court records, with both sides responsible for their own attorneys' costs. The Senate Democrats were represented by Mark Grueskin, who was paid by the General Assembly. The Senate Republicans' legal costs were borne by the state Republican Party, according to Senate GOP spokesman Sage Naumann.

The appeal to the Colorado Court of Appeals, filed by Grueskin on June 18, stated that the defendants agreed to the permanent injunction in order to facilitate the appellate review.

The Democrats' motion asks the appeals court to consider whether the District Court violated the separation of powers, "in creating standards for and directing implementation of legislative procedures that are within the province of the legislative branch."

The motion also asked for a review of whether the District Court had erred in exercising its jurisdiction, given the political question doctrine; whether the District Court had erred in granting the injunction based on the factors presented; and finally, whether the District Court erred "by mandating legislative compliance with an unprecedented, impractice and subjective test for bill 'reading' that will lead to continued but uneven judicial involvement" as it pertains to oversight of legislative process. 

Sen. John Cooke of Greeley, one of three plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said in a statement Friday that "we are confident the well-reasoned opinion of the trial judge will be vindicated on appeal. The Colorado Senate should continue to follow the common sense rules of the Colorado Constitution, no matter which political party is in the majority."

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