Why the Special Session Will Change Nothing

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Gov. John Hickenlooper announces he'll call a special session in a news conference in Denver on May 9, 2012. (credit: CBS)

Gov. John Hickenlooper announces he’ll call a special session in a news conference in Denver on May 9, 2012. (credit: CBS)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

On Thursday, Governor John Hickenlooper set out the details for the Special Legislative session he called to convene next Monday, May 14th. The session was inspired by how the Civil Unions bill, and many others, died on the House floor on Tuesday night.

The focus of the Special Session will obviously be on the Civil Unions bill. But legislators on both sides of the aisle do not expect that the bill will see a full vote on the House floor. They believe the only detail that remains to be seen is how exactly the bill will die this time.

A key element of the special session was explained to me by legislators on Thursday. A special session is not like an overtime session of a game. It’s a completely new game, with potentially entirely new committees. With the focus of the session being on only seven issues, not every committee is needed as much as it is during a standard session, hence the committees can change.

Because the session starts again from scratch, with potentially very different committee makeups, Speaker Frank McNulty and Majority Leader Amy Stephens can create a committee with fellow Republicans that do not favor the bill to ensure that it simply dies in a committee.

Speaker McNulty made it clear on Tuesday night that he is willing to do what it takes to kill the bill.

To be any clearer about his intentions on Tuesday night, he would have had to don a Gandalf costume, complete with a staff, march to the center of the House floor and bellow, “It… Shall Not… Pass!!”

But I digress. (For the four Lord of the Rings fans that appreciated that joke, you are welcome.)

While Speaker McNulty had the option of killing the bill himself during the first session of 2012, before it started, he went on record that he intended to send the bill to the same committees that he did last year. That commitment somewhat tied his hands to count on the GOP majorities in each of those three committees to stay unified in their belief that the bill should die.

Obviously, that did not happen.

But even though the special session will enable McNulty to completely change the playing field, I believe his hands are tied again, if he is still committed to killing the bill. He must send it to a committee that will kill it because he simply cannot trust his party’s one seat majority to vote his way in the full House. Too many of his GOP colleagues have made their intentions clear to vote for the measure.

There technically is room for McNulty to change his mind on the issue, however it is very unlikely. Some Democratic activists actually worried that the session would give McNulty a slim chance to go back and repair his decision and diffuse the situation by allowing the bill to pass.

But the same legislators that illuminated me about the special session rules also succinctly identified the political pickle McNulty remains in.

If he changes his mind from Tuesday night, he either insults the people he previously helped, or he helps the people he previously insulted. Neither choice seems that good for McNulty.

With no good options in front of him, the only real choice is to stay the course. If he does that, in the end, the special session will not likely change anything except the weapon used to kill the bill.
About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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