Colorado’s attorney general defended the actions of House Democrats on Thursday, claiming their refusal to have a controversial gun control bill read aloud did not affect House Republicans and should not result in it being deemed unconstitutional.
Attorney General Phil Weiser, representing Gov. Jared Polis and the state of Colorado, argued a lawsuit challenging the red-flag law on procedural grounds should be thrown out for three reasons: House Republicans were unharmed; the dispute is political rather than legal; and the suing Republicans intentionally delayed filing the lawsuit until after the legislature could remedy their complaints.
“Plaintiffs claim the legislature did not follow the procedure of reading the bill at length. … But rather than complain then to the legislature, they kept quiet until the session ended, not allowing the legislature an opportunity to cure the alleged defect, and now ask this court to intervene in a hotly-contested political issue,” the attorney general’s office wrote Thursday.
Weiser’s response comes nearly two months after Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and several House Republicans filed suit in Denver District Court, alleging Democrats used unconstitutional tactics to pass House Bill 1177. After the law takes effect Jan. 1, judges will be able to temporarily remove firearms from Coloradans believed to be at high risk of harming themselves or others.
The plaintiffs are not challenging the constitutionality of the law itself — though they have said they may do so in the future — but rather the manner in which it was passed in the House.
On March 1, Republican Rep. Dave Williams requested on the House floor that the bill be read at length but was told by Rep. Jovan Melton, the presiding Democrat, “that request was not properly moved.”
Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Greeley, then asked that the bill be read at length. Several clerks began reading different sections of the bill at the same time for several minutes. Humphrey returned to the House lectern and withdrew his motion, calling the reading “a cacophony” and “unintelligible.”
Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, later stepped to the lectern and asked that the bill be read at length. Melton told her, “That motion has already been done and will not be considered.”
Barry Arrington, an attorney for Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and the Republicans, has claimed the denials of Williams and Saine were a violation of the state constitution, which says bill readings are required unless “dispensed with upon unanimous consent of the members present.”
Weiser argued Thursday that alleged violations of House rules are handled within the House, not by courts. The suing Republicans lack legal standing to bring a lawsuit because they were unaffected by the decision to not read the bill aloud, Weiser claims.
“The legislator-plaintiffs do not assert that they did not know the bill’s substance because of the claimed lack of a full reading,” he wrote. “Nor do they allege that reading the bill at length would have persuaded other representatives to vote against it.”
It’s now up to a Denver District Court judge to decide whether to grant the government’s motion to end the lawsuit or allow the case to move forward.