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Decades-old rule helps Democratic majority push bills forward with limited debate

After working into the weekend, an old House Rule was used to limit debate over gun laws and save time in the state legislature.

DENVER — Colorado Democrats have the votes to pass whatever they want in the state legislature.

The only real power Republicans have is to delay.

Like they tried to do to stall three Democratic-sponsored gun bills.

Those bills would make it less difficult to sue gun makers and dealers (Senate Bill 168), require someone to be 21 to possess a firearm (Senate Bill 169) and enhancing the state’s extreme risk protection order law (Senate Bill 170).

Bills must pass two full readings in the House and Senate. “Second Reading” is when all lawmakers can debate for an unlimited amount of time. “Third Reading” is limited to 10 minutes per lawmaker, if they choose, and they can come to microphone twice, but no longer than 10 minutes total.

House Democrats called lawmakers to work through the weekend when House Republicans used the ability to stall with unlimited debate during the second reading of those bills.

Debate on Senate Bill 168 lasted into Friday night. When lawmakers came back on Saturday, they tabled that bill to negotiate possible changes, while Republicans started unlimited debate on Senate Bill 170.

At 6 p.m. on Saturday, the House Majority Leader, State Rep. Monica Duran (D-Wheat Ridge), made the announcement that a little-used House Rule would be implemented.

"Madam Speaker, pursuant to House Rule 14, I move that the time for debate on Senate Bill 170 be limited to one hour and time for debate on Senate Bill 168 be limited to one hour,” Duran said.

Rule 14 dates back to 1951, when it was known as ‘Rule 18.’ That rules states that debate can be limited to no less than one hour if the majority approves. In 1949, the limit was 10 minutes per lawmaker. As far back to 1895, and at least through 1925, the time limit was 30 minutes per lawmaker.

“Debate didn’t stop and so we weren’t going to reward bad behavior,” said State Rep. Javier Mabrey, D-Denver.

Mabrey is a House sponsor of Senate Bill 168. He was part of the group of Democratic lawmakers negotiating with Republicans to end the debate and allow some amendments to be approved.

“We had a few deals on the table to stop the filibuster on that bill,” Mabrey said.

“One was to change some of the language that made the standard of proof a little higher for someone that was taking on these lawsuits. The other was to cut out the conceal portion of it, so if somebody has a product that helps conceal a gun, then they would be cut out of it,” said House Minority Leader, State Rep. Mike Lynch, R-Wellington.

The bill was inspired by Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, parents of Aurora theater victim Jessica Ghawi, who tried to sue the makers of the ammo and body armor used by the shooter. A state law that went into effect following Columbine made it more difficult to sue gun manufacturers and dealers, and it required the person suing to pay the defendant's legal fees if they lost. The Phillips’ declared bankruptcy after losing their case.

One of the amendments that Lynch said they worked on would have taken non-gun makers out of the scope of the bill.

“One of them is Cinch Jeans, and the other is Hunter holster manufacturer,” Lynch said. “Those are real live examples of Colorado companies that would have benefited.”

Cinch Jeans makes outfits with conceal carry pockets and The Hunter Company makes holsters for weapons. Based on the language of the bill, Lynch believes they could also be sued.

“Of the 50-plus amendments that we had, we had distilled it down to three that they could agree with, and we could agree with,” Lynch said. “This was substantive changes that really did help industry here in the state.”

When Republican lawmakers refused to stop unlimited debate, the Democrats used Rule 14, which limits debate.

“How that went down on our side is somewhat irrelevant, but we had folks that wanted more out of the deal,” Lynch said. “I’ve learned from my leadership training throughout the years, it’s never good to throw your own team under the bus. That is a leadership challenge for me to take care of and I plan on doing that. We’re not going to lose any good deals like that, I will say.”

“It felt like we weren’t being negotiated with in good faith,” Mabrey said.

Sounding like it was self-inflicted, Lynch still took issue with the Democrats decision.

“It doesn’t show good will, I don’t think, for them to limit debate,” Lynch said.

“It’s called ‘Rule 14’ because it exists in the book. Everybody when they came in, they got the rule book, they got the procedures, they know what the rules are,” said former Republican state lawmaker Colin Larson. “It’s there, it’s in the book. It’s not like they invented it for this session.”

Larson was part of a stall tactic while still in the legislature in 2022.

He said there were about 100 bills remaining in the final week, when Republicans started to debate at length about specific bills.

One of the bills was to not allow deceptive tactics by law enforcement to get information out of juveniles.

Republicans were able to get amendments that watered the bill down so much that when it went back to the Senate, Democrats let it die.

“In exchange for us getting those amendments, the requirement was that we let the floor return to normal, let things get back to moving, which we ultimately did,” Larson said.

Democrats currently outnumber Republicans in the House 46-19, which confused Larson on why they would not accept a compromise if they were offered.

“If you’re a minority with 19 members out of 65, and the majority is willing to deal with you at all, you should take that deal because I wouldn’t do it, if those were the numbers,” Larson said.

He was concerned with the lawmakers who refused to stop debating.

“If, in fact, there was a deal on the table, amendments offered, and one or two members selfishly would rather grandstand and try to make a name for themselves as the longest ‘filibusterer’, and in exchange for that allowed policy to move forward in a worse form than it should have, I mean, that’s a complete failure of their duty and their position as a representative,” Larson said. “Hopefully their constituents will hold them to account, or they’ll rethink why they got into public office.”

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