Each session, zombie bills lurk at the Colorado Capitol. Minimum wage increases, high-capacity-magazine-ban repeals, the Parent’s Bill of Rights, the gay-conversion-therapy ban – these are just a few of the proposed bills dubbed “The Walking Dead.” These high-profile corpses stumble under the Gold Dome cursed to be struck down.
This split session has been haunted by a legion of the Walking Dead.
Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, likes to say: “You can make a point and you can make a difference, but you can’t always make both.” Zombie bills just make a point, on the premise that making a point can someday make a difference.
Speaker Dicky-Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, thinks bills typically die for one of two reasons: the idea’s new and needs refining or the idea’s old and one party is dead-set against it.
Many Walking Dead bills are like toddlers. They can’t survive on their own. These bills are a first-time attempt to address complex and charged issues and haven’t quite learned how to walk.
“I would put the Death with Dignity bill in that category,” said Hullinghorst. “It will have a chance of passing, but there needs to be a lot more discussion.”
The Death with Dignity bill would have allowed patients with a terminal illness to self-administer a life-ending drug. At first, it seemed like a passable bill. The testimony from ailing patients was moving and the libertarian impulse backing the measure appealed to both parties. But the new idea hit an unexpected snag when disability rights activists vehemently opposed the measure, worried it might push disabled people toward suicide. The bill died on a bipartisan vote.
Sen. Laura Woods, R-Arvada, carried a bill against civil forfeiture early this session that also falls into the too-new-to-succeed category. Her bill responded to national headlines about how law enforcement sometimes confiscates items only tangentially related to building a criminal case. Political commentator John Oliver called civil forfeiture “the ultimate slush fund.”
Yet once the measure hit committee, law enforcement pointed out that killing civil forfeiture in Colorado more or less meant killing their efforts to fight human trafficking. The bill got some bipartisan support, but more bipartisan opposition from lawmakers wouldn’t vote for a bill that would make it harder to combat “modern day slavery.”
Another likely zombie-bill still on loose: “The Homeless Persons’ Bill of Rights.” Sponsored by Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, the bill would guarantee homeless people the “right to rest” in public and give them recourse if they’re harassed. There’s a serious popular support for the bill and serious opposition from city governments, many of which have passed urban camping bans that would be flouted by the state law.
“We’ve always been aware that the U.S. is the great social experiment,” said Salazar. “Human dignity, human rights, they don’t ebb and flow with political cowardice or will. They just exist.”
Does Salazar know the measure has been branded as a member of The Walking Dead? Sure. And in a sense, that’s the idea. He wants to make a point.
“We’re not here to tread water. Colorado doesn’t move forward that way,” he said. “We bring these bills because it’s the right thing to do. Senate be damned if they don’t want to honor human dignity, human rights. I still have to bring these bills because it’s my charge.”
Even if they’re doomed.
A sense of duty also has lawmakers reviving dead bills that kicked the bucket last session or even earlier this session.
This year marked the third in a row that lawmakers debated gun control. Many of the repeals on high-capacity magazines actually ran twice — twin-zombies shuffling through both chambers. Even as some of these Walking Dead bills lurched out of the Republican Senate, all perished, as expected, in the Democratic House.
“I was really looking as SB 175 as a wholly legitimate attempt to repeal the magazine ban, not a political statement,” said Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, who sponsored the repeal.
Holbert worked to bring three Democrats onto the bill, and it lumbered from the Senate with bipartisan support.
“It’s the passion I have for the subject but also the respect I have for the process and for folks on both sides,” said Holbert. “If we can build consensus, we should.”
For her part, Hullinghorst is taciturn about her decision to kill the magazine-ban repeal once it came to the House. She called the repeal a messaging issue for Republicans and compared it to the minimum-wage bill for Democrats.
Earlier this session, the Senate killed a bill to require background checks for all youth-sports coaches. Now Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, has loosed this zombie bill into the House.
“There’s a messaging importance to this in the sense that this is about public safety,” said Singer. “We need to share with parents that when they sign their kids up for soccer they need to ask their youth-sports organizations whether or not they do background checks.”
But Singer is not just practicing the art of legislative necromancy to make a point; he’s also working to answer earlier concerns that the bill didn’t go far enough to protect kids in its first life. He’s already earned a Republican “yes” in committee and has the Democratic majority behind him on the House floor. Despite the session’s trends, Singer said he’s more optimistic every day that his 2.0 effort can survive a second tour in the Senate.
That hope, ultimately, animates every measure of the kind: that one Walking Dead bill might just make it to the Governor’s desk and turn out to be truly alive.
Top Photo Credit: Sam Javanrouh, Creative Commons, Flickr.
Second Photo Credit: Stephen Mitchell, Creative Commons, Flickr.
Third Photo Credit: Newsbie Pix, Creative Commons, Flickr.