Legislature

Reproductive rights effort fizzles

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An effort to bolster a woman's reproductive rights was introduced at the legislature with a bang, but went out with a whimper.

The bill — which would have prohibited the state from interfering with a woman's reproductive health care decisions — was killed by Democratic leadership before it ever came up for a highly anticipated debate in the Senate on April 16.

The reason behind the last minute decision by Democrats to kill the legislation depends on which lawmaker one speaks with.

The bill sponsor, Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, said the effort was pulled because Republicans had threatened to wreak havoc on the legislative process for the rest of the session, if the bill had gone forward.

Kerr said that Republicans were planning to use filibusters and other delay tactics to interfere with key pieces of legislation that are still moving through the Capitol.

"It became obvious that D.C.-style politics were going to be happening the last three weeks of the session here," Kerr said.

Republican leadership called that idea nonsense.

"That's ridiculous," said Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs. "What they ran into was a firestorm of public dissent, period; a firestorm of public opposition to this political hatchet job."

Onlookers looking to follow the vote in the Senate gallery — most of whom were opposed to the legislation — didn't get much of a show. Senate Majority Leader Rollie Heath of Boulder gave no explanation for spiking the bill when he moved to lay over the bill until the day after the session ends, which kills the legislation this year.

The bill would have prohibited state or local governments from enacting "any policy regarding reproductive health care that is inconsistent with or contrary to current evidence-based scientific data and medical consensu … " accompanying bill language states.

The effort is a response to continued conservative efforts to restrict women's reproductive rights, either through the legislature or the ballot box.

The sudden demise of the bill capped a wild, 48-hour sequence of events.

Catholics converged on the Capitol to protest the bill on April 15. That's the day debate on the bill was supposed to be held in the Senate. However, the vote was delayed a day because Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, went home sick. Kefalas' vote was needed for the vote to pass in a Senate that Democrats control by a single vote.

The next day, speculation swirled that the bill could end up being killed. Colorado Community Media was the first to report that Democratic leaders had spent the day figuring out whether they were going to move forward with the bill.

Kerr asserts that he had all 18 Democrats on board, but the reaction afterward from a couple of Democratic lawmakers puts that in question.

Kefalas voted for the bill in committee. But he later acknowledged that he struggled over his vote — and he never confirmed that he was going to vote yes in the first place.

After the vote was killed, Kefalas did not directly answer questions as to how he would have voted.

"All I can say is I express a concern about this and I listened to constituents," Kefalas said.

Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, was also conflicted. When asked how she was planning to vote, Zenzinger said, "I honestly don't know."

Zenzinger is a Catholic, first-year lawmaker who will face a tough election bid this November. Asked if she was relieved that she didn't have to cast a vote, Zenzinger said, "Yeah, I think so; being a Catholic woman."

Senate President Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, did not speak with reporters on the Senate floor on April 16. Carroll instead sent an emailed statement, in which she was critical of Republican positions on women's productive rights issues.

At the same time, Carroll, like Kerr, said she didn't want other important pieces of legislation being affected as a result of GOP outrage.

"We have made our point, and in the interest of getting the remaining work done on education, jobs, higher education affordability and childcare, we laid the bill over," Carroll said.

But Cadman — who denied any effort on the part of Republicans to disrupt the legislative process — said Democrats have only themselves to blame for the bill's failure. Cadman also referenced last year's democratic legislative achievements on hot button issues, many of which angered Republicans.

"They got called on it and, unfortunately, they put their caucus and this entire institution through a significant turmoil over the last few days and dragged a lot of people out of their homes to come express their voices," Cadman said. "The good news is this time, unlike last year, they listened.