Energy mandate repeal dies in ‘kill committee’

Renewal requirement helped fuel secession effort

DENVER – A Republican attempt to reverse a renewable-energy mandate failed Wednesday, becoming one of the first casualties of the state Legislature’s 2014 session.

Democrats also shot down GOP bills to ban welfare debit cards from being used at marijuana stores, and to allow people to buy out-of-state health-insurance policies.

It’s likely the start of a pattern, with many of the Republicans’ early bills either seeking to repeal what Democrats passed last year or trying again to pass bills that have failed in the past.

Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, wanted to repeal last year’s mandate on rural electric cooperatives to increase their renewable-energy use to 20 percent by 2020. (Xcel Energy, which serves Denver, already has a 30 percent mandate.)

The rural mandate was one of the grievances stated by Northeast Colorado counties that voted to secede from the state in November. Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway was the leader of the effort, and he testified for Harvey’s repeal plan Wednesday.

“The 800-pound gorilla in the room is that rural-urban divide,” Conway said.

But the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted along party lines to kill all three bills.

Before the hearing, Republican senators held a news conference to decry Senate President Morgan Carroll for assigning their bills to the “kill committee.”

“I know the people of Colorado are not happy with how legislation has been treated,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud.

Republicans, however, invented the kill-committee game.

Unlike Congress, Colorado’s Constitution requires every bill to be given at least one vote. The majority can’t kill unfriendly bills by never bringing them up in committee, so when Republicans ran the Legislature, they came up with the idea to consign bills to the State Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.

The “State” in the committee’s name is supposed to refer to the Department of State, which runs elections. In practice, though, both parties have used the committee for partisan bills because they can make the case that just about anything qualifies as a state affair.

In 2004, when Lundberg sat in the majority on the House State Affairs committee, he voted to kill Democratic bills on a diverse array of topics, including measuring poverty, seat-belt fines and unemployment benefits.

Other panels also have served as kill committees. Republicans sent a 2004 bill for same-sex civil unions to the now-defunct Committee on Information and Technology to be killed.

Lundberg and other Republicans called on Democrats on this year’s State Affairs panel to end the pattern and refer bills to better committees – something Lundberg himself never did when he sat in the majority.

“As a freshman, it didn’t cross my mind, unfortunately,” Lundberg said.

Although Lundberg admitted Republicans have used kill committees in the past, he said Democrats are using them more often than the GOP ever did.

Carroll, the Senate’s Democratic leader, has said she’s not interested in using the session to rehash laws passed last year.

“Every bill will get a full, fair hearing, but we are not going to move the state backward and have no obligation to pass bad laws for Colorado,” Carroll said in a news release.