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Legislative collapse

The best argument for a part-time citizen legislature is that Coloradoís lawmakers have real lives. They are not entirely creatures of the alternate universe that is government.

On Tuesday night, however, some of Coloradoís lawmakers provided a vivid demonstration of why citizens have lost faith in their elected representatives. On Tuesday, their behavior was worthy of Washington and unworthy of Colorado.

Two problems converged. The first, a perennial one, is that the 120-day legislative session is no longer enough time to make all the decisions Coloradans want their lawmakers to handle on their behalf. Colorado is a populous, prosperous state facing diverse challenges. Its citizens deserve a legislative that can face those challenges thoughtfully, and its legislatures deserve time to do their jobs well.

The other problem, also perennial,is the intense partisanship that now hampers almost every aspect of government.

The civil unions bill was bound to be contentious, but like all serious legislation, it deserved honest debate, careful consideration and open voting on its own merits. Instead, it became the cause of a complete legislative collapse that the Denver Post called ďa late-night game of political chicken.Ē. House Democrats didnít introduce the bill until late in the session. House Republicans didnít want to vote on it so they slowed discussion of other measures. Democrats enlisted supportive Republicans to force the issue. Republicans called a recess.

The civil union bill ó passed by the state Senate, supported by the governor, and appearing to have enough votes to pass in the state House ó never came up. More than 30 other bills died on the clock.

Not all those bills would have reached a vote. There simply wasnít enough time, and thatís too bad. Some legislation could have been completed, though, if Senate Bill 2 had been presented for an up-or-down vote.

Yes, 2012 is an election year for state representatives. The legislature is tasked to do its job every single year. Sometimes that job is unpalatable. Sometimes it takes political courage.

Sometimes, apparently, political maneuvering is irresistible, and thatís too bad, because some the bills caught in the crossfire were very important: School discipline reform. Blood-level marijuana limits for drivers. The stateís annual water projects bill ó in a drought year.

Good job.

On Wednesday, the House scrambled to salvage some of those bills by attaching them to other measures that were still alive. As necessary as those moves were, connecting unrelated measures ó making the fate of one dependent on the fate of another ó is another maneuver that angers voters.

The bickering and finger-pointing continue. Democrats say Republicans should have stood up for their principles, voted and accepted the consequences. Republicans say the bill was a Democratic time-waster that distracted lawmakers from economic issues.

From either side of the aisle, the fracas canít be viewed as the Houseís finest hour, nor did it demonstrate how democracy is supposed to work. Itís no wonder citizens are disenchanted.

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