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Procedural wrangling punctuates gun bill hearing

Updated Feb. 13 – The judiciary committee finished up with the bill on Thursday and voted 6-3 to postpone the bill indefinitely.

Sometimes the majority party’s plans to kill a bill don’t follow the script.

Take House Bill 14-1157, a Republican measure that proposed to let school boards and charter school boards to adopt policies that would allow school employees who already hold concealed weapons permits to carry their guns at school.

After more than five hours of predictable testimony, the bill was teed up to be killed by the House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic majority. That sort of happened, but not as planned.

First, Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, proposed an amendment that would have deleted most of the bill except for a provision to allow charter schools to hire armed security guards. (School districts can do that under existing law but charters can’t.)

Some committee Democrats admitted they liked the amendment but still would vote against the bill if amended. Why? Because if the amended bill were passed to the floor, Republicans could try to add the deleted parts back onto the bill, forcing the Democrats into a lengthy – and televised – floor debate.

There was much wrangling among Gardner, Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, and chair Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Greenwood Village. All are skilled parliamentarians and sharp-tongued partisans when they choose to be. The back and forth was interrupted by a brief recess so Democrats could retreat the nearby office of Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, for consultation.

Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, said she was assured by Ferrandino that Republicans would be allowed to introduce a brand-new bill related narrowly to charter school hiring of security guards.

So the committee passed Gardner’s amendment unanimously, but the motion to pass the bill to the floor failed on a 4-7 vote. Kagan then proclaimed the meeting adjourned and banged his gavel.

Second later, he realized he’d forgotten to have the bill “postponed indefinitely,” a procedural move needed to make sure a bill is really dead. He tried to reconvene the meeting but was quickly reminded by Republicans that the rules don’t allow that once the gavel has fallen.

Kagan scurried back to the speaker’s office and emerged a couple of minutes later to acknowledge that the meeting was, in fact, adjourned. So Democrats will have to figure out later how to finally drive a stake through HB 14-1157’s heart.

The bill was one of several gun measures introduced in the legislature this year but was the only one with a direct connection to education. This year’s gun debates are largely a replay of those in 2013, when Democrats pushed through a controversial package of gun-control measures. This year GOP members have introduced several largely symbolic measures to repeal 2013 laws, plus other assorted gun bills.

Current law allows only school resource officers (usually local police assigned to a school) or trained security guards to carry weapons at elementary, middle and high schools.

Many school boards, administrators and teachers don’t like the idea of having more adults carrying guns at schools. But the optional nature of HB 14-1157 appealed to some districts, particularly small ones in remote areas distant from police or sheriff’s stations.

Because of that, the Colorado Association of School Boards endorsed the bill. (It didn’t take a position last year.) In contrast, a top officer of the Colorado Education Association opposed the bill.

Republican committee members emphasized the local-control nature of the bill as a reason to pass it. “Denver has one idea about this and Douglas County has another,” said Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock.

The hearing was the first real marathon of 2014 involving an education-related bill. It drew scores of witnesses and stretched from 1:45 until 7:43 p.m.

Gun-control advocates flooded the zone, and witnesses opposing the bill far outnumbered supporters. The witnesses include a long parade of mothers, teachers, retired teachers and high school students testifying against the bill. Many were organized by advocacy groups such as Colorado Ceasefire.