Funding for Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission and the Division of Civil Rights is uncertain following a vote in the legislature Thursday, Feb. 8. The Joint Budget Committee deadlocked in a 3-3 vote – which effectively shuts off funding to the agencies starting July 1. Gov. John Hickenlooper criticized the decision, saying it “sends the wrong message to Coloradans and businesses looking to move here.”
Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland spoke with Marianne Goodland of Colorado Politics and Ed Sealover of the Denver Business Journal about the politics behind the vote, and how it may impact other business at the capitol.
On why the agencies’ work and funding are in jeopardy:
Goodland: The Civil Rights Commission and the Division of Civil Rights, which are both within the Department of Regulatory Agencies, are up for a sunset review this year. That means they need authorization to continue their work. There are some people who are claiming that this is retaliation against the Commission for their decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which is currently awaiting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court. … What we have now is a brouhaha in the Capitol with Democrats furious, including the Governor that the JBC could not come up with a budget for the Civil Rights Commission.
On what makes this so unusual:
Goodland: Sunset reviews are very pro forma things around here. Lots of boards and commissions go through this every year, and usually they’re no big deal. But Republicans are upset about the Masterpiece Cakeshop. They’re also upset about an appointment that the Governor made to the Civil Rights Commission that they disagreed with. They did not accept that appointment and rejected the nomination.
And those two things mean that Republicans are kind of gunning for the Civil Rights Commission – they want to see changes in how the Commission’s members are appointed. They also want to see more transparency. But I think there’s at least a portion of Republicans in the state Senate that would like to see the Commission go away entirely.
On how this could affect other legislation:
Sealover: We knew it was going to be a political, ugly year, [but] this is the first time we’ve seen a partisan fight over a social issue that I think is going to bleed over a little bit. Look at some of the things that are going through right now that already have DOA signs on them. Republicans are trying to push through regulatory reform -- that’s probably not going to be a success, and this doesn’t help. Democrats are trying to push through a plan to offer paid leave to every employee at a private business in the state. That had little chance to begin with; that’s probably dead now, too.
But the real question is – are the feelings over this going to get so tough that it’s going to A) make it harder to craft a budget at this point, or B) that it’s going to get into things like the debate over transportation funding? Which, by the way, has a major piece of the budget crafting process at its center. In an election year, things like this can get outsized in their impact on everything else.
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