Startup bills in limbo after Statehouse civil unions filibuster

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Colorado House Republicans ran out the clock Tuesday in the waning hours of the 2012 legislative session to avoid a vote on a civil union bill opposed by conservative members.

Thirty-three bills were held hostage during the ensuing five hour filibuster that ended after 11 p.m. and could not be debated on the House floor to advance for a vote.

Among the casualties were four startup bills on benefit corporations, rural broadband, economic development and pre-employment immigration screening.

Lawmakers are now scouring obscure parliamentary rules to move some of stalled legislation forward on Wednesday, the last official day of the Colorado General Assembly’s mandated 120 day session. Statehouse rules require bills to be heard and voted on twice by the “Committee of the Whole” or the chamber’s entire membership with a minimum of 24-hours between the two votes.

One approach could be to attach the unheard bills as amendments to other loosely-related legislation that moved through the normal legislative process and is up for a final vote today. Another idea floated by the Senate leadership is to create massive omnibus bills that deal with several issues under a broad topic, like business, to pass as one large package.

We’ll keep you posted on the plight of the startup bills as more information becomes available.

The four startup and technology bills stuck in legislative limbo are a grab bag of good intentions and ideological time bombs.

HB12-182 Benefit corporations
Enacts the “Invest in Colorado Act”, and authorizes the creation of benefit corporations. A benefit corporation must have, as one of its purposes specified in its articles of incorporation, the goal of creating general public benefit.

The skinny: This is the third year in a row that a bi-partisan group of lawmakers has attempted to pass legislation to enshrine pseudo-social ventures as a legal corporate structure in Colorado. Companies ranging from local green/energy tech co-op Namesté Solar to New Belgium Brewing have pushed for the bill. However, the Colorado Bar Association strongly opposes it. The bill’s co-sponsor Rep. Tom Massey (R-Poncha Springs) conceded to the House Appropriations Committee yesterday that the Bar Association won’t support it because lawmakers wouldn’t agree to let them draft a watered-down version of the bill. Likelihood of getting passed today: 60/40 since the sponsors are all experienced lawmakers and Senate President Brandon Shaffer (D-Longmont) has also signed on. Two of the three main sponsors are also term-limited so there’s some grudge match dynamics at play here.

SB12-129 Rural Broadband Jobs Act
Defines “broadband” and directs state agencies to recommend a strategy to increase service to underserved rural broadband markets.

The skinny: Denver Business Journal reporter Ed Sealover tweeted: “[Bill sponsor and Snowmass Village Democrat Sen. Gail] Schwartz says that #SB129, mapping areas w/o broadband access, is likely dead because it doesn’t fit with any existing bills.”

SB12-005 Business Retention and Expansion Program
Requires the state Office of Economic Development to develop and administer a program to retain and expand current state-based businesses as part of the Colorado Blueprint Plan.

The skinny: This one has a fighting chance since it’s a priority of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration and the Senate could jam it into an omnibus jobs creation package.

HB12-1309 Colorado Mandatory E-Verify Act
Requires all Colorado employers to use the federal electronic verification program to screen the immigration status of new employees. Non-compliant employers could be subjected to civil fines of up to $25,000 and a loss of business license for 6 months.

The skinny: Is the House GOP truly that crazy after the filibuster fiasco last night to stir emotions on another emotionally contentious bill? We’ll see. As Tekhne wrote when it was first introduced in February, this corporate prison lobby boilerplate legislation is a disaster for a lot of reasons. One particularly evil move would be to attach this bill as a poison pill amendment to another piece of legislation that House leaders don’t want passed by the Senate or must be advanced, like the $71.6 million state water projects bill that was also stalled in the 11th hour House shenanigans Tuesday night.

[heading style="1"]UPDATES[/heading] May 9 2:00 p.m. MDT: Hickenlooper calls for special legislative session
The governor holds a press conference at the state capitol indicating he will call for a special legislative session, possibly beginning Friday, for lawmakers to debate the civil unions bill as well as other stalled legislation to boost economic recovery and public safety.

A special session is a constitutional maneuver that may be invoked by the governor to reconvene the General Assembly to conduct legislative business in the event of “extraordinary occasions.”

May 9 3:05 p.m. MDT: Benefit Corporation sponsor Democratic Sen. Bob Bacon attempted to tack the bill onto an industrial hemp study bill as an amendment.
Bill co-sponsor and Republican Sen. Ted Harvey challenges the motion as the bills are not related. Sen. President Brandon Shaffer confers with legislative staff and rules against Bacon. The bill remains in limbo.

May 10 Hickenlooper announces the special session that will bring lawmakers back to the capitol Monday will address civil unions and six other issues, including the benefit corporation bill.