Legislature adjourns, House fails to override two governor vetoes
DENVER ” The Legislature adjourned Monday night, two days before the deadline, but not before the Democrat-controlled House tried and failed to override two vetoes by GOP Gov. Bill Owens.
One would have protected whistleblowers who allege violations of standards in health care. The other challenged the governor’s power to decide how the state spends money.
During the hectic final day of the session, lawmakers approved and sent to the governor proposals that would make it a violation of state law to take money to transport illegal immigrants and a bill that would allow protesters to be kept 100 feet away from funerals.
They also approved a proposal that would bar employers from penalizing employees for not attending mandatory religious or political meetings. After praising lawmakers who were leaving because of term limits, senators got into a tense debate over whether to ban cash gifts to themselves. It passed 18-16 over the objections of rural lawmakers who said they need the money to help travel and keep in touch with their constituents.
A measure that would have abolished the statute of limitations and allowed sex abuse victims to sue molesters and the institutions they worked for died on the calendar when the final gavel fell at 11:22 p.m.
Owens said he vetoed the whistleblower bill (House Bill 1193) on Monday because he said it could create an expensive, cumbersome and inefficient process that would draw focus away from patient safety and quality and result in expensive and unnecessary lawsuits.
Rep. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, said if the whistleblower veto were allowed to stand, it would endanger patient lives.
“This is a very dire disincentive and very grave danger to our patients to do that. We are in fact sentencing patients to unnecessary disease, death and disability,” she said.
She said the bill passed unanimously in the Senate and 60-5 in the House. The veto was allowed to stand on a vote of 35-29 when Democrats failed to get the two-thirds majority needed.
Democrats tried again when Rep. Tom Plant, D-Nederland, former chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, challenged the governor’s veto of headnotes in the state budget telling the governor how to spend money. That attempt failed on a 34-30 vote.
The governor and Legislature are currently embroiled in a legal dispute over who has the authority, a conflict that started when Republicans controlled the Legislature. Plant said lawmakers should decide how the money is spent.
“This is clearly a separation of power issue, a question whether the Legislature will continue to have the power of appropriation,” Plant said.
House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, said a vote on a veto override is different from a vote on the bill. He said having a Republican governor is important when the Democrats control the House and the Senate.
“The power of the veto is what assists us in doing our job. This is too important to give up,” he said.
Owens spokesman, Dan Hopkins, said lawmakers have tried and failed to challenge the governor’s spending authority.
“I think there is a political element to it,” Hopkins said.
In his veto letter, Owens said hospitals complained the whistleblower bill would create serious problems. He said it would create a new statute that duplicates existing law on unlawful employment practices.
In his veto message, Owens said: “because of the very general definitions in this bill, serious legal claims could be brought forward for minor disciplinary actions.”
Owens also said the bill would give an employee the ability to raise allegations of retaliation many years after the disclosure, potentially resulting in claims based on inaccurate and incomplete information.
The issue over the state budget went before the state Supreme Court last September. The central question was how much authority lawmakers have to tell agencies how to spend their budgets, and how far the governor’s line-item veto power extends.
Deputy Attorney General Maurice Knaizer said the definitions, called headnotes, restricted the flexibility state law gives the governor and state agencies to manage finances, especially in times of economic hardship.
Denver District Judge Jeffrey Bayless ruled two years ago that lawmakers were trying to intrude on the governor’s constitutional authority to have the final say in how agencies spend money appropriated to them by the Legislature.
The arguments came in a lawsuit the Legislature filed against Owens after he vetoed 13 headnotes in the 2002 budget bill, which was passed by the GOP controlled Legislature.
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