Colorado Civil Rights Commission debate divides Republicans and Democrats on Senate vote 

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On April 25, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee added changes to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, and Democrats aren't happy.

Sen. Bob Gardner (from our own Colorado Springs) "passed changes that would alter who can appoint members of the panel, streamline the option of court involvement in cases and create a mechanism for legislative audit of the commission and more transparency on the cases it takes," according to The Denver Post.

Advocates are asking that the Senate pass a "clean" version of this bill, minus amendments. One Colorado, the state's largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, calls for "Protecting the civil rights of every Coloradan across the state should not be a political issue. We need to make sure the members of the State Senate know that these amendments don’t belong in this bill, and that they should pass a clean reauthorization of the CCRD that doesn’t include these amendments."

——————————————ORIGINAL POST: 5:31 P.M., APRIL 25————————————————

The tale of the Colorado Civil Rights Division — and the division that it has caused between state Democrats and Republicans — began in February, when the Colorado Joint Budget Committee, which reviews funding for state agencies, reached a deadlock vote on funding for the Division, with Democrats voting to continue supporting CCRD and Republicans voting against it. The news of the split vote blew up, with Democrats calling sabotage and Republicans claiming they were misunderstood in their intentions — if not entrapped.

Their goal, they said, was to review the CCRD before allocating funding, as CCRD was up for sunset review this year anyway, a lengthy process to determine a division’s continued usefulness.
But since then, Republicans have proposed amendment after amendment to alter the way the Colorado Civil Rights Commission — the official panel of the CCRD — operates, giving the public some insight into their motives. House Bill 1256, which would reauthorize the Civil Rights Commission, already passed out of the Democrat-controlled House, but the Senate Judiciary Committee (controlled by Republicans, mind you) is set to vote on the Commission April 25.

Republican anger toward the Colorado Civil Rights Commission may have something to do with the controversial U.S. Supreme Court case in which the commission is currently embroiled: Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Some background: In 2012, a Colorado baker refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple due to his religious beliefs. The couple took their grievance to the Civil Rights Commission, which ruled against the baker. As we await the Supreme Court decision and heated debate continues nationwide, the Republicans’ desire to better control the composition of the Commission’s board and other aspects of its operation comes across as a direct, retaliatory response to the Commission’s decision.

There’s a high likelihood that there will be changes to the Commission in the Senate, as Republicans consistently claim that religious freedom was violated in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. At this point, it is certain that the Colorado Civil Rights Division is not in danger of complete annihilation, but it may be different in the aftermath of this debate. How different, and how effective its new form will be, remains to be seen.

Thankfully, on all sides, we agree that we need an agency to address discrimination, especially at the state level (God knows we won’t get help from up-top for a good few years). What Colorado politicians can’t seem to agree on is how the Commission should proceed. Republicans want more legal expertise (which they received, in part, with Hickenlooper’s recent appointment of lawyer Charles Fredrick Garcia to fill the spot left by Heidi Hess in March), and they want to install safeguards for religious freedom. Democrats believe the Commission has done its job competently for decades, and see no need to change the way it works.

In the 2015-2016 fiscal year, 989 charges were filed with the CCRD, with 743 of those resolved. That’s a huge impact. Moreover, CCRD hosts trainings, webinars and classes to educate employers and the working public alike about their rights. Keeping this Division afloat, and maintaining its integrity, isn’t about being politically correct; it’s about justice for people who have been wronged and education to make future wrongs less likely.

One Colorado, the state's largest LGBTQ rights organization, has put together a form to help folks contact their senators.

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