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Not Every Bill Leaves The Colorado Capitol, 'Kill Committees' Are Usually Their Final Stop

Paul Sableman
Flickr - Creative Commons

Every bill at the Colorado legislature must receive a fair hearing… and a vote. That's what state law says, but the fate of many bills is decided before lawmakers even begin the debate. Their fate is sealed in what's called a kill committee.

More than 500 bills have been introduced so far in the 2016 legislative session. State representative Su Ryden (D-Aurora) said that's a lot, but it's also business as usual at the statehouse.

"Many are the first attempt to do something, to fix something, to change something, to create something. But maybe they're not quite ready for prime time."

Some of those bills, said Ryden, the chair of the House State Veteran's and Military Affairs Committee, need to be put to rest. Some insiders call the panel the House kill committee. It's where the Democratic House majority sends bills it doesn't like.

"Often it's fairly obvious that this is something that does not agree with our basic core values," said Ryden. "Others are more complicated, but it's a job that needs to be done."

"There's a group of legislators, and that's probably all of us quite frankly, that will run particular bills that are not designed to really accomplish much but make a political statement."

In other words, Ryden said some of these measures are partisan. An example would be a Republican bill that would have allowed concealed guns to be carried into public schools. That measure and other conservative gun bills, were shot down by Ryden's committee. Another bill by Representative Gordon Klingenschmitt (R- Colorado Springs) would have ended Obamacare alignment in Colorado.

"They have five hardcore Democrats there who always vote no on Republican bills, with a few exceptions, but generally once it goes to the kill committee, the fix is in," Klingenschmitt said.

Half of his bills during his two year tenure have died in the House kill committee. So far in the current session, 23 Republican bills were sent there, and a little over half have died. You may want to blame Democrats for playing partisan politics, but the same thing is happening in the state Senate, controlled by a Republican majority. Twenty-one Democratic bills have been sent to the kill committee there – and all of them have died.

Senator Ray Scott (R-Grand Junction), the chair of the Senate State Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, said defeating bills is part of governing.

"There's a group of legislators, and that's probably all of us quite frankly, that will run particular bills that are not designed to really accomplish much but make a political statement," Scott said. "I think it's fair to say there are committees that are designed to take care of the political statements. That's pretty much what we do a lot of."

Scott's committee recently defeated a bill from Senator Andy Kerr (D-Lakewood). It would have extended a law allowing parents to take unpaid leave to attend their children's academic activities. At the beginning of the committee hearing Kerr made a joke about how frequently he's presenting bills there. He was trying to make light of the situation because he knew the fate of his bill once it had been assigned to Scott's committee.

"We actually have a running joke with the whole committee, that I'm an honorary member of the committee, because almost every time the committee meets, I'm here as well," Kerr said.

Half of Kerr's bills have been sent there, including a measure that would have created full day kindergarten. But what about the veteran's issues that both the state House and Senate committees are supposed to address?

Su Ryden, chair of the House committee, values that work.

"We really love doing our veterans and military bills, those are usually good positive bills, trying to help our veterans and keep our military strong in Colorado," Ryden said.

House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso (R-Loveland) hopes people don't come away with the impression that kill committees mean the minority parties don't get anything done.

"Yes, there are bills that come through that are contentious, but we do put a solid number of bills on the governor's desk every year, so unlike the folks out in Washington D.C., here in the state Legislature we have a tendency to get along, for the most part we are able to work together," DelGrosso said.

It's also worth noting that bills die every day in other committees. Sometimes a bill sent to a kill committee doesn't die after all. That happened earlier with a proposal backed by a Democratic senator and a Republican representative to create a public lands day in Colorado. The bill began in the Senate where the Democrat had to make changes for it to pass the muster of the state veteran's and military affairs committee. Eventually the full Senate approved it.

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