DENVER (AP) – Tempers are getting testy in the Colorado Legislature as the session nears its midway point, and it turned out to be a wacky Wednesday in the state House during routine voting for bills.
Lawmakers from both parties have picked up on the sour mood, with House leaders planning a friendly bipartisan dinner meeting to discuss ways to soothe rancor.
Wednesday’s thorny session showed the need for some healing. Democratic Rep. Judy Solano was gaveled down three times as she took to the well to critique a bill she said would roll back legislation she sponsored two years ago with bipartisan support.
Solano’s remarks, made during a time reserved for voting, rankled Republicans, particularly when she began calling the names of those that voted for her bill in 2010.
“I might remind members that those types of discussions will not be tolerated,” said Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty, who was one of the lawmakers Solano called out.
Her bill from two years ago required utilities that own or operate coal-fired electric generating units to submit emission reduction plans for the units.
“We have had numerous examples of this kind of behavior over the last couple of weeks. I think that was absolutely inappropriate,” said Rep. Mark Waller, the third-ranking Republican in the House.
Rep. Mark Ferrandino, the Democrats’ leader in the House, said Solano was making valid points about the bill, but became frustrated when she was interrupted with the gavel, and then she began to name Republicans.
“She was trying to talk to the bill and got gaveled and then started calling out members. Calling out members is not the appropriate thing to do from the well,” Ferrandino said, but added that it wasn’t appropriate for her to be interrupted when she was talking about the bill.
Later, Democratic Rep. Sal Pace stepped out of the chamber to avoid voting on a bill he said puts him in a conflict because he would benefit from it. The bill would allow colleges to have longer contracts with non-tenure track professors, instead of having annual contracts. Pace teaches at Colorado State University in Pueblo.
“It specifically deals with a job that I have outside of the Legislature,” Pace said about the bill. He had jogged down the House chamber while lawmakers were voting so he could explain his conflict and not vote. Pace said House rules direct lawmakers not to vote when there’s a conflict of interest.
“The voting machine’s been opened,” McNulty told Pace. “Then mark me absent,” Pace said. After brief recess, McNulty said lawmakers who are present in the House must vote. When the machine was opened again, Pace briefly left the chamber and was marked absent.
Waller accused Pace of being too preoccupied with his congressional run in the 3rd District. “It goes back to, are you serving in the House or are you running for Congress?” Waller said.
“I’m very focused in this session,” Pace said. He said that was evident in the “fact that I wanted to declare my conflict on this bill.”
The Senate has also recently been the site of testy debates on issues such as abortion and credit scores. Last week, Republicans railed against Senate Democratic Leader John Morse, calling him an “embarrassment” because he said his party stood up for “the little guy” while Republicans protected corporations. Republicans said Morse’s assertion was wrong.
Ferrandino and Waller said they planned to have dinner Thursday.
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
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