Fulfilling the foreshadowing by House Majority Leader Keith King, Republicans at the state Capitol have killed the last two bills introduced this legislative session by Rep. Michael Merrifield, a Democrat from Manitou Springs.
On a party-line vote, the GOP majority on the House Finance Committee last week killed House Bill 1339, which would have changed the formula for refunding part of the business personal property tax during years when the state has a revenue surplus.
Merrifield said his proposal would have directed more of the refund toward small businesses. Currently, he said, more than 60 percent of the refund goes to the state's 150 biggest companies.
Landlord bill obliterated
The vote left Merrifield with just one remaining bill -- a proposal to protect tenants against neglectful landlords. House Bill 1340 would have allowed a tenant to break his or her lease and have the security deposit returned if the tenant notified the landlord of a problem with the apartment and the landlord failed to respond within 15 days. Currently, tenants who walk away from their leases are often sued by the landlords for lost rent, and they rarely get their deposits back.
But on Monday, that bill was killed as well. One Democrat, Rep. Carl Miller, joined the six Republican members of the House Information and Technology Committee in defeating the bill on a 7-4 vote. Among the GOP lawmakers voting against the bill was Rep. Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs.
Merrifield said he had expressed his willingness to make adjustments to the tenant-friendly bill to overcome objections that committee members might have. But after a handful of witnesses testified for and against the proposal, the committee proceeded to vote it down without asking a single question.
"The bill was not debated at all," Merrifield complained
Top priority: Stop him!
The two defeats mean that the GOP has killed all five bills that Merrifield was allowed to introduce this session. The previous three bills that failed were:
House Bill 1101, which would have increased the liability of dog owners in dog-bite cases;
House Bill 1146, which would have restricted the ability of state lawmakers to receive gifts and compensation from lobbyists; and,
House Bill 1163, which would have reduced the state vendor's fee -- a portion of the state sales tax that merchants are allowed to keep as compensation for collecting the tax -- and used it for statewide tourism promotion.
Last year, Republicans killed all but one of Merrifield's bills, a "housekeeping" measure to continue electronic registration of sex offenders.
Merrifield believes his proposals have been defeated not on their merits, but for partisan reasons. Merrifield is the only Democratic lawmaker from El Paso County, and his Republican colleagues have declared it a top priority to stop him from being re-elected this fall.
Prior to the current legislative session, House Majority Leader King, a Colorado Springs Republican, reportedly told Merrifield that none of his bills would pass. King later said he was joking.
"I guess he wasn't," Merrifield said this week.
Merrifield said he hopes his constituents will realize why almost none of his bills passed "and see that the bills that I was trying to pass were really focused on making life better for them."
Merrifield now plans to focus most of his energy on discussions over the state's budget, which again faces a significant revenue shortfall. He said he wants to try to find funding for libraries and the arts "and keep the cuts off the backs of the poor."
-- Terje Langeland
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