Marianne Goodland reports for the Colorado Springs Gazette on multiple attempts yesterday by House Republicans to undermine the power of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission–action on the heels of a highly controversial vote by notoriously anti-LGBT Republicans on the Joint Budget Committee against funding for the commission:
The House Judiciary Committee Tuesday voted 10-1 to draft a bill to extend the Colorado Division of Civil Rights and the civil rights commission for nine more years. House Republicans offered six amendments that attempted to make sweeping changes to the commission, without success…
Republicans attempted to change how the commission is appointed and its authority. One amendment, offered by House Assistant Minority Leader Cole Wist of Centennial, would make the commission’s sole purpose to investigate and research discrimination, and strip it of its ability to hold hearings or review appeals.
The hearing function would stay in the statute but discrimination cases would go to an administrative law judge and hence wouldn’t take away the rights of a complainant to have his/her case heard, Wist said. But without its hearing authority, one Democrat said the change would make the commission little more than an academic body.
Goodland reports on other proposed alterations of the Civil Rights Commission, including reducing the sunset review period and allowing legislative leaders to appoint members to the commission in addition to the governor. The individual proposals offered by Republicans to “reform” the Civil Rights Commission aren’t really what matter, though.
It’s the fact that Republicans believe the Commission needs “reform” at all.
Readers will remember that the current partisan battle over the Civil Rights Commission has two principal origins: first in a U.S. Supreme Court case involving a Lakewood cake baker accused of discrimination against a same-sex couple, and second in an embarrassing episode for Senate Republicans last year in which they refused to reappoint an LGBT member of the commission. After Senate Republicans’ stated rationale for denying Heidi Hess another term was shown to be preposterously in error, the only thing left to justify their action was Hess’ support for anti-discrimination legislation passed years ago.
And, of course, the fact that Heidi Hess is a member of Colorado’s LGBT community.
Politically, this sustained retaliation against the Civil Rights Commission by Republicans in the Colorado legislature seems destined to backfire. The benefit of rallying religious-right voters doesn’t come near to compensating for the swing-voter support Republicans stand to lose by continuing this grandstand. It’s not the first time local Republicans have seized on anti-LGBT wedge politics in a major election year: the then-one seat House GOP majority’s extraordinary shutdown of the House to kill a civil unions bill that would have otherwise passed with bipartisan support in 2012 being a strikingly similar example.
If the 2012 elections are any guide to how this ends, a very serious mistake is being made.