Weeks 5 and 6:
With the incredibly busy legislative session before us, I did not get my blog post distributed last week, so this message is a consolidation of weeks 5 and 6. I apologize for the lengthy message and delay!
The last two weeks will forever be ingrained in my memory due to its historic nature. Over this course of time I have witnessed the resignation of the Pope (which hasn’t happened in over 600 years), the passage of Civil Unions and the Employment Opportunity Act in the Senate, and the House passed four bills to help curb gun violence, which has caused me to reflect on my spiritual journey and core beliefs. To provide background, I was happily raised in the Catholic Church. I received my holy sacraments at Our Lady Mother of the Church in Commerce City, where I volunteered as an altar server and also taught catechism with my parents. I considered the seminary in lieu of a college education, but ultimately felt that my calling existed outside of the Church.
Per Catholic tradition, last week marked the beginning of Lent, which honors Jesus’ journey into the desert to fast and pray for 40 days and 40 nights in anticipation of his crucifixion. Many Catholics give up a personal vice during this time to honor the sacrifice made by Christ. In previous years, I have sacrificed my consumption of chocolate, grains, refined sugar and meat. This year, I have decided to give up on resentment, which I believe to be a useless and debilitating emotion. Conversely, I intend to greet every day and every challenge with a smile throughout the Lenten season (which also correlates to the most contentious time in the legislature). It is in this context that I offer you my summary of the last two weeks.
As I reported earlier, I had the great honor of chairing the Civil Unions hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. I also had the opportunity to vote on the bill in the Senate Appropriations Committee, before it was sent to the full Senate for debate. Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carroll approached me the weekend before the full Senate debate and asked me to chair the committee of the whole as we discussed the bill. I gladly accepted the opportunity knowing that it would a monumental occasion that would not present itself again.
As I took the Chair, I looked out to the Senate floor and gallery where I saw many friendly faces. My partner and son, Louis and Israel, sat on the Senate floor during the course of the debate, and I would look to them and smile when things would get tough. Senators Pat Steadman and Lucia Guzman presented the bill with the same level of poise, thoughtfulness and passion that they have demonstrated throughout this entire effort. The Republicans who argued against the bill again made the claim that the Civil Unions bill would infringe on their religious beliefs and the bill would force them to treat gays and lesbians equally in the course of public life. Senator Steadman pointed out (as I had in committee) that the law already states that you cannot deny someone a product or service based on his/her sexual orientation if you would normally offer the product to the public (e.g. selling cake in a bakery). Although I was unable to directly respond to their arguments from my position in the Chair, the opponents had to direct their comments to me, an openly gay legislator, or to the two bill prime sponsors, also openly gay legislators, as they defended their opposition. It was no surprise then that the floor debate lacked the vitriol and venom that had been demonstrated the previous year in the House. In this sense, the debate was incredibly civil despite our disagreements. After three hours of debate, I asked for the vote and was able to happily declare that the bill had passed! On Monday, the bill passed on 3rd and final reading (21-14) and is now headed to the House for full consideration!
Employment Opportunity Act
On last Tuesday, my first bill, SB 13-018, passed out of the full Senate on a party line vote (20-15). This bill, also known as the Employment Opportunity Act, prohibits employers from using credit information in hiring/promotion decisions if the information is unrelated to the job. I argued that no one should be denied an employment opportunity because they have fallen on hard economic times. Despite the fact that the business community has been working with me on the bill, Republican senators argued that this would put an undue burden on businesses. I replied that we should be just as concerned for the middle class and the working people of our state as we are about being supportive of our local businesses. I believe you can support workers and businesses simultaneously — and this bill is proof of this belief. The bill is now headed to the House for full consideration.
Gun Violence Prevention
In the wake of the recent high profile gun violence that has occurred in Colorado and the nation, it is clear that we must have a public debate about gun safety, mental/behavioral health, and school security. As you may have read in the papers, the House introduced, considered and passed four bills to help curb gun violence in our state. Specifically, the bills would require a background check for all gun transfers/sales, ensure that gun purchasers pay for their own background checks just as teachers do, limit the size of a magazine to 15 rounds, and prohibit concealed weapons in college buildings. Passions are high on both sides of the issue and Colorado has fallen into the national spotlight as this unfolds. The bills will be before the Senate in the next few weeks, and I presume a few of the measures will come to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.
The U.S. Constitution is a complex document that outlines the fundamental liberties that we value as a nation. In considering any issue that deals with constitutional rights, we must consider the totality of the document to understand that one right does not supersede any other right. Since its founding, the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the intent of the Constitution and has ruled on how to balance competing interests that may arise. For example, to safeguard the constitutional guarantee to pursue life and liberty, a person cannot yell “fire” in a crowded theatre. In this example, the right to free speech is limited to safeguard life and liberty. Similarly, we already recognize that murder is against the law, and our justice system exists to ensure that our equally important constitutional rights of due process and the right to a fair trial are also upheld.
In the most recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on the 2nd Amendment (District of Columbia v. Heller), the conservative justices declared in a 5-4 vote that individuals have the freedom to keep and bear arms, but they also specifically noted that reasonable policies can be enacted to encourage responsible gun ownership and use. This decision is widely understood to allow lawmakers to consider legislation that creates a responsibility associated with the right to bear arms, to protect ALL of our constitutional rights and liberties. It is with this understanding that I will consider the proposed legislation soon to be placed before me.
As a side note, I have received some of the most hateful, offensive and threatening messages in the course of this debate by those purporting to be law-abiding citizens who own guns. My family and I have been threatened in emails, phone calls and Tweets. I’ve had individuals demand for my immediate deportation to a foreign country, recall of my position in the Senate, and a request to see my family and me literally raped in the public square.
I inspired the ire of the extreme gun lobby because I made the simple claim that more and more guns in civic life will jeopardize public safety (and their response has not diminished my belief in this statement). In my comment, I made the point that it is our job to write laws that protect safety. I am not the first person to claim that the pen is mightier than the sword, and I know it’s my responsibility to write laws that protect our fundamental liberties, including the right to life and the pursuit of happiness. Apparently symbolism does not translate well into a two- second sound bite circulated by extreme right wing ideologues.
The issues of gun violence and public safety are incredibly complex and sensitive. I know that we will not fully resolve the issues before us only through legislation. We must fundamentally work to change our culture that glorifies violence and permits open threats of hostility and violence. We must acknowledge our fellow citizens and residents with basic human dignity if we want anything to change. I am committed to this principle and I hope to receive the same level of consideration moving forward.
Please continue to email, call, Tweet, Facebook, or visit me if you’d like to talk about any issue that may be facing the State of Colorado. I will leave you with this quote from the beloved Catholic nun and humanitarian, Mother Teresa:
“Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.” – Mother Teresa
With love and without resentment,