Owens plans special session in illegal immigration fight
DENVER – Let the spin begin.Gov. Bill Owens said Tuesday he will call a special legislative session unless the Colorado Supreme Court reverses its decision to throw out a November ballot measure that would ask voters to deny most state services to illegal immigrants. He gave the court two weeks.The top Democrat in the state Senate, Joan Fitz-Gerald of Golden, said no special session is needed because lawmakers dealt with illegal immigration this year, passing laws that crack down on human smuggling and counterfeiting documents.She said it’s unlikely two-thirds of the Legislature would agree to call for a special session if Owens does not, and accused Republicans of trying to make immigration a political issue in a year when control of the Legislature and the governor’s office are up for grabs.Experts said the issue will dominate political campaigns for the rest of the year – no matter what happens.Independent pollster Floyd Ciruli of Denver said the issue could help Republicans trying to win back the state House and Senate after losing control to Democrats for the first time in more than 40 years in 2004. He said it also could help Republicans hang on to the governor’s office once the term-limited Owens steps down.Illegal immigration is a wedge issue that could bring more Republicans to the polls, Ciruli said.”It could force Democrats into a vote that many of them wouldn’t want to campaign on,” he said.The proposed constitutional amendment would not stop the state from paying for federally mandated services such as public education or emergency medical care. But supporters said it would prevent illegal immigrants from receiving welfare and in-state college tuition. They have declined to list all the services that would be affected, saying the list would be “almost endless.”In a 4-2 ruling Monday with one justice abstaining, the court said the measure cannot appear on the Nov. 7 ballot because it violates a requirement in the constitution that initiatives deal with only one subject.Owens said he believed the court, which got the case in January and the facts of the case in March, deliberately dragged its feet until after it was too late for proponents to get a measure on the ballot. He also said the court tried to impose its own views in its decision, a thinly veiled accusation of judicial activism.”In my opinion, the court’s decision was inconsistent, it was inappropriate, and yes, I even believe it was arrogant,” Owens said.The governor asked the court to overturn its decision, but acknowledged there was little chance that would happen once the state files its request.Defend Colorado Now, the group behind the measure, has already gathered more than 30,000 of the 68,000 voters’ signatures required, but it cannot start over with a revised proposal because a key deadline has passed.Republican lawmakers asked Owens to call a special session and give lawmakers a last-ditch opportunity to get the initiative back on the ballot. House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, said voters deserve a chance to weigh in on the hot-button issue.”The state Supreme Court illegally denied access to the ballot on an issue I think enjoys overwhelming support. The question is access to the ballot. To have that taken away by the courts needs to be resolved,” May said.It would take a two-thirds vote in both houses, controlled by Democrats, to get it on the ballot.May said that if Owens won’t call a special session, lawmakers should do so by getting two-thirds of the members to sign on. He said this was a chance for Democrats to prove their contention that illegal immigration was a major issue for them as well for Republicans.”I would hope they would want to get on the record for the rights of citizens to vote,” May said.Fitz-Gerald called that proof that Republicans just want to use illegal immigration as a political weapon this year.”I think Mike May is engaging in political grandstanding,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for them to have their issue in the forefront instead of all the accomplishments we have made over the past few years.”Senate President Pro Tem Peter Groff, D-Denver, said the Legislature passed a number of bills cracking down on illegal immigration and there is no need to refer a new proposal to voters. Groff said Republicans tried to get their initiative on the ballot because they didn’t have support for their measure in the Legislature.”They should have run it through the Legislature in the first place,” Groff said.Other Republican lawmakers attacked the court ruling as an attempt by activist judges to keep the issue off the ballot.”The Colorado Supreme Court apparently elected itself the 101st legislator,” said Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma.He accused the court of a “flip-flop” after approving nearly identical language two years ago. The justices have said their previous approval was based on a challenge alleging the proposal was misleading, but this year’s challenge was on entirely different grounds.Former Senate President John Andrews, a sponsor of the initiative, said he would file an appeal this week. Attorney General John Suthers, speaking on behalf of the state Title Board that approved the measure for the ballot, said he also would appeal.”In light of the Supreme Court’s prior decisions regarding the single subject requirement and the simplicity of the proposed measure, we were very surprised by the court’s decision,” Suthers said.
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