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Senate GOP suing after Democrats thwart their slowdown tactic

The computer games are just beginning at the Colorado State Capitol, as Republicans have now sued to stop Democrats from letting machines read the bills.

DENVER — There are few tactics for the minority party at the Colorado State Capitol to take control.

A lawsuit filed by Senate Republicans is the newest. That's because last Monday, Senate Republicans tried their best option,  which was to have a 2,023-page bill read aloud word-for-word.

"The one thing the constitution allows and really clearly provides for is the reading of a bill at length," said Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert (R-Parker).

A staffer read the bill for about three-and-a-half hours before Senate staff set up five laptops to have the bill read by computers.

RELATED: Republicans stall Senate by forcing 2,000-page bill reading

What was poised to last days ended in hours.

Lawmakers can waive a bill reading or have it read at length on second and third readings. This was the second reading for the 2,000-page bill.

The lawsuit filed March 12 by Holbert, Sen. John Cooke (R-Greeley) and Sen. Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs) seeks to have a judge determine that Senate President Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo) and Senate Secretary Cindi Markwell violated the state constitution by not properly reading the bill aloud when requested.

They were granted a temporary restraining order from having the bill advance until a hearing scheduled for this Tuesday, March 19.

Republicans called for the 2,000-page bill to be read aloud, not because they care about that bill -- which is about re-coding and reorganizing a specific section of Colorado Revised Statutes -- but as a way to slow down the Senate calendar and stall debate on the oil and gas reform bill. Debate on that bill started on Tuesday.

Holbert told Next with Kyle Clark that the request to have the bill read aloud is a move previous minority leaderships have used to get the attention of the majority party.

"What typically happens is an ambassador, an emissary from the majority will come and ask, 'Can we talk? What's it going to take?' I was surprised that no one from the majority came and asked, 'Can we talk?'" said Holbert. "We can't force them to do that, but they know where my office is."

"It's obstruction tactics, that's what they're trying to do. They want to stall, they want to throw a temper tantrum on the Senate floor, that's what they're trying to do. That doesn't mean we have to respect it and appreciate it and give them things that we think are irresponsible things to request," said Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg (D-Boulder), sponsor of the oil and gas reform bill.

In a statement regarding the lawsuit, Garcia took a similar stance.

"Senate Republicans have decided to employ unprecedented partisan tactics, abuse taxpayer dollars, and waste time that could be spent working for the people of Colorado. This political gamesmanship is more fitting of Washington, D.C. than Colorado — we are better than this. It is not too late. My door is open, and my colleagues are welcome to discuss how we can come together to ensure we pass the best policy for Coloradans - like we were elected to do," wrote Garcia.

"Everything in this bill has actually been discussed as previous legislation one way or another in previous sessions, these are not new concepts," said Fenberg about the oil and gas reform bill.

Holbert said if they could have just one thing changed in the bill, it would be to replace the safety clause at the end, with a petition clause.

"A safety clause means that the law goes into effect immediately and the people don't have a say," said Holbert. "Using the petition clause would not require Majority Leader Fenberg or the majority to change the wording of the bill, they could pass the same bill, but at least give the people of Colorado the opportunity to weigh in through that petition process."

A bill that passes with a safety clause goes into effect upon the Governor's signature or whenever the bill details say it takes effect.

A bill with a petition clause has a section that reads:

"Act subject to petition - effective date. This act takes effect at 12:01 a.m. on the day following the expiration of the ninety-day period after final adjournment of the general assembly (August 2, 2019, if adjournment sine die is on May 3, 2019); except that, if a referendum petition is filed pursuant to section 1 (3) of article V of the state constitution against this act or an item, section, or part of this act within such period, then the act, item, section, or part will not take effect unless approved by the people at the general election to be held in November 2020 and, in such case, will take effect on the date of the official declaration of the vote thereon by the governor."

If a bill with a petition clause passes and is signed into law, voters can collect signatures and petition to put a measure on the Nov. 2020 ballot to ask voters statewide to have the law not take effect.

"No, I’m not concerned about that. It's a reasonable bill, I don't think voters would sign a petition to put this on the ballot," said Fenberg. "For me a safety clause is reserved for bills that are generally about health and safety. That's what this is about."

An amendment to change the safety clause to a petition clause failed during a Senate floor debate.

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