Senate Democrats kill felony DUI measure, despite bipartisan support

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DENVER — How does a bill that passed the House on a 56-6 vote fail to even be debated on the Senate floor?

“Shenanigans,” according to Sen. Mike Johnston, one of the lawmakers sponsoring a bipartisan effort to create a felony penalty for repeat DUI offenders in Colorado, still one of just four states without one.

“There are always some surprises at the end of the session. I just didn’t expect this to be one.”

The House Appropriations Committee voted down House Bill 1036 on Tuesday morning, as four Democrats, two of whom had previously indicated their support for the bill to Johnston, voted against it.

Those lawmakers: Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora; Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Denver; Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, and Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Adams County.

“It just got too politicized and it felt like we were rushing it through at the end of the session,” one Senate Democrat told FOX31 Denver.

Supporters of the bill scoffed at those excuses.

“The bill was introduced in January,” said Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray. “I don’t think it’s been rushed.”

And Johnston noted that the measure was amended so that it didn’t cost the state any money next year and just $1.6 million in 2015, when it would take effect.

In a session when lawmakers found about millions to pay for an aerial wildfire-fighting fleet, expanded childcare tax credits and technology improvements to reduce DMV wait times, the price tag for a felony DUI penalty seemed manageable to most.

“It has no fiscal impact this year, we’ve been working on it all session, the House leadership was supportive so it was certainly a surprise and a disappointment we couldn’t get through Appropriations given that we’d gotten through two other committees already and had strong support on the Senate floor,” Johnston said. “We had bipartisan support in both chambers and the money to pay for it.”

The House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, was fuming when he found out the bill had been killed, taking to Twitter to express his contempt for the Senate Democrats who scuttled his proposal.

Waller even went as far as to tweet directly at the Democrats who voted down the felony DUI measure, highlighting other legislation they saw fit to fund with state dollars over his.