State House Republicans appear to have few options for preventing an overhaul of Colorado’s oil and gas industry backed by majority Democrats, so on Tuesday they stalled.
The filibuster to delay action on the measure came after GOP lawmakers fought unsuccessfully to have a clause added to the oil and gas bill that would allow opponents try to block it through a voter petition drive.
Senate Bill 181 would hand local governments control over industry development and operations, increase emission monitoring and direct the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to prioritize public health and the environment over fostering the industry.
The House Finance Committee approved the measure Monday evening, passing it to the Appropriations Committee. That party-line vote has been the story of the measure since it was introduced last month. Democrats have pushed the measure through the legislature with Republicans in vehement opposition.
House Republicans continued that opposition Tuesday by dragging out the chamber’s agenda with lofty diatribes at the well and requesting that bills be read at length before voting.
House Speaker Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder, had expected to bring the oil and gas measure to the floor for a second reading either Wednesday or Thursday, but that plan might well have been delayed even further by the hours of speeches, tenuously linked to the bills at hand, and the texts of those bills being read quickly by a computer.
Throughout the afternoon, Republicans uttered familiar phrases at the chamber’s well: “I just want to get up here and talk,” they said. Or: “I just wanna say again…”
At one point, the House was considering a bill concerning the regulation of seed potato growers and House Republican leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock reminded the chamber that potatoes have twice as much potassium as bananas before discussing the glycemic index.
Becker asked Neville to keep his talking points to the bill itself.
“This is to the bill because it’s about potatoes,” Neville said.
“Just because it’s about potatoes doesn’t mean it’s about the bill,” Becker shot back.
Republicans are working on behalf of voters who successfully beat back a ballot measure on setbacks last fall that would have greatly restricted oil and gas operations, only to have Democrats pushing through something similar now, Neville told Colorado Politics.
“The main thing we’re asking for [is] fairness to voters who just voted [against] Proposition 112, which had the same outcome as 181,” Neville said. “In the bill right now there’s no way for them to petition their government so we’re asking for a petition clause to be fair to voters.”
He said the filibuster would continue for as long as it takes.
“It’s in our hands to try to slow the process down and do whatever we can to stop it,” Neville said of the House’s minority.
Throughout committee hearings and Senate votes, Republicans repeatedly asked that a petition clause be added to the oil and gas bill. Such a clause would allow those who oppose the bill to collect signatures to petition a question onto a statewide ballot that could overturn enacted legislation.
“We need to give our voters a say. Give them an out,” said Rep. Shane Sandridge, R-Colorado Springs. “And if they want to override us, they should be able to.”
Sandridge on Monday had asked Finance Committee members to add a petition clause to the oil and gas bill, to no avail. Tuesday he was among the other GOP representatives asking for bills to be read at length.
Petition clauses are rarely used, Sandridge said Monday. His colleague Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta County, reiterated that comment Tuesday.
“Is someone really going to get out and get 250,000 signatures to challenge this bill and put it on the ballot? Probably not,” Soper said. “And are voters, if it were to make the ballot, going to vote against it? I would once again say probably not.”
But neither were exactly correct.
Just this year, the legislature passed -- and Gov. Jared Polis signed -- a controversial bill that would dedicate each of Colorado’s nine Electoral College votes to whichever presidential candidate earns the national popular vote. That bill contains a petition clause.
Before Polis signed the bill into law, an effort was already underway by the mayor of Monument and a Mesa County commissioner seeking to petition on to the 2020 ballot and asking voters to overturn the new law.
That effort would require less than 125,000 signatures to earn a spot on the ballot, not 250,000 signatures.
Indeed, those types of petitions are rare.
The last time someone petitioned onto the ballot in an attempt to overturn legislation was 1932 over a margarine tax increase, said Serena Woods, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office. The measure failed by more than 83,000 votes, however, and the tax increase remained.
Becker said she didn’t know what the majority could do to prevent the filibuster, but she was critical of Republicans’ effort to gum up the legislative works. She said elections have consequences, and voters put Democrats in charge of state government last November.
“It’s bringing Washington-style politics to Colorado,” Becker said. “It’s the same thing as doing a government shutdown, and people don’t like that.”
She said Republican stalling is “not what people want in their legislators.”
Tuesday’s slowdown echoed another bill earlier this month when Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, asked that the Senate clerk read the 2,023-page House Bill 1172 at length, bringing the chamber to a screeching halt.
Senate Democrats elected to use five computer-reading programs to read the bulk of the bill. The entire process took about seven hours and resulted in a lawsuit from the Republicans arguing that such a reading was unintelligible.
Last week a judge agreed, granting a preliminary injunction against Senate Democrats and the secretary of the Senate, requiring that bills be read at “an understandable speed.”