Budget debate turns into House ruckus over sanctuary cities
The road to next year’s state budget hit some bumps in the last 24 hours, with the House coming to a standstill twice over the issue of sanctuary cities.
Much of the commotion stemmed from the actions of first-year lawmaker Republican Rep. Dave Williams of Colorado Springs. Williams comes from the same House district as controversial Reps. Gordon Klingenschmitt, and convicted tax felon and TABOR author Doug Bruce. He seems to share their ability to stir the pot.
The House on Thursday planned to debate the $26.8 billion 2017-18 budget and then give the measure final approval on Friday. Those plans went awry early, with 93 amendments on deck for the budget bill and almost a dozen hours of debate ahead.
The House adopted 27 of those amendments, including restoring partial funding for the state’s film incentive program, $16 million for an affordable housing grant program, $9.5 million for rural broadband, and freeing up $8 million for “vulnerable” hospitals facing big budget cuts. The latter two amendments came from Republicans and their success was something of an accomplishment in a chamber where they are at a nine-seat deficit.
But it was the sanctuary city issue that twice brought the House to a halt.
On Thursday night, Williams submitted an amendment that would strip state funding from so-called sanctuary cities and counties that serve undocumented immigrants. The amendment was declared out of order by Democratic leaders, based on a rule that says an amendment to the budget bill cannot enact new laws. Williams responded by setting up a filibuster through a parliamentary procedure that called for the entire 600-plus page budget bill to be read out loud.
That same procedure says that the member who invokes the request is the only member who can withdraw it. Williams didn’t. Close to a dozen House staff members lined up to read the bill, each reading a separate section. It took about 30 minutes.
As the reading of the bill began, lawmakers ringed the press table, getting into an arguments. Democrats accused Williams of having a temper tantrum. Republicans countered they weren’t being treated fairly by being denied an opportunity to debate their amendments.
“You’re either going to give us a voice or not give us a voice,” said Republican Rep. Justin Everett of Littleton.
“We’ve already had a debate on this issue,” countered Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran of Denver, referring to several other measures that have gone through the House on the sanctuary city issue.
Everett responded that Democrats shut them down at every opportunity, adding “We’re not going to stand for it. Let’s have a substantive debate on substantive issues.”
That prompted Democratic Rep. Joe Salazar of Thornton to point out that “your nuclear option is pitching a fit on the long bill.”
The evening ended at 11 p.m., with the budget unfinished. That earned House members gentle derision from the Senate Friday morning, which had finished its work on the budget a day early last week. About a dozen senators “invaded” the House chamber to poke fun at the House’s inability to finish its work on time. Senators held up and waved signs that said “Senate Budget Guarantee: Budget passed in under a week or your money back,” and “Half the Time, Twice as Good.”
Friday morning, lawmakers returned to finish the debate and to hold a preliminary vote on the budget. Twenty amendments were brought back for another round, including one from Williams from the previous night on defunding a program that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, that he called just another “sanctuary-city policy.” Williams, who is Latino, brought up several recent crimes involving undocumented immigrants. And he also ratcheted up the rhetoric, using the term “illegal aliens” repeatedly, to the ire of Democrats.
Finally, Duran, a Latina, had had enough. She addressed the House not once, but twice, her voice full of emotion.
“When we think about what is lost on some people…when they use ‘illegal alien,’ is humanity,” Duran said. All of the House Democrats stood in silence as she spoke. “It’s not about casting out strangers. We want to make sure everyone is part of an inclusive state and nation.” She called Williams’ remarks, although not addressing him by name, “hateful and divisive. We should rise about that.”
Some Republicans squirmed in discomfort during the two debates, privately saying Williams’ amendments made them look bad. Many represent rural communities where undocumented immigrants work in meatpacking plants, farms and ranches. Assistant House Minority Leader Cole Wist of Centennial said the conversation “saddened” him. “We are not in a better place than when we started this morning,” he said.
Seven Republicans from mostly rural districts joined with the chamber’s 37 Democrats to strike the amendment down.
The House gave the budget bill its initial approval shortly thereafter.
The House will finish its budget work on Monday. The budget then moves back to the Joint Budget Committee, which will begin the process for resolving the differences between the House and Senate versions.
Photo and video by Marianne Goodland
Feature photo: Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon, vice-chair of the Joint Budget Committee, Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran of Denver and Democratic Rep. Dave Young of Greeley pour over amendments to the budget bill during this week’s debate in the House.
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