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The 2006 Special Legislative Session - CAIRCO history - part 4 - Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform

This is the fourth part of Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform history (and Defend Colorado Now history) that relates to significant immigration reform legislation passed in Colorado.

By June, 2006, Defend Colorado Now (DCN) had collected nearly three fourths of the required signatures to place an initiative on the ballot that would prevent persons unlawfully present in Colorado from receiving publicly funded services.

We were on a roll... until the Colorado Supreme Court, in a blatant act of biased political activism, struck down the Defend Colorado Now (DCN) initiative in June, 2006. Governor Bill Owens (R-CO) then called a special legislative session to address the issue.

Calling the Special Session

There are two ways to get an initiative on the ballot in Colorado:

  1. the initiative petition process (the route DCN had taken), and
  2. by the legislature directing a referendum to the ballot.

The Governor could call the session with a either a general mandate to address the issue of illegal immigration as embodied in the DCN initiative, or a specific mandate to directly refer a referendum to the ballot - which in essence would "overrule" the Supreme Court.

Reasons supporting directing a referendum to the ballot included:

  • The Sovereign People of Colorado should be allowed to vote on the question.
  • It would help keep the Supreme Court from issuing biased political decisions in the future.
  • It would (if passed) make Colorado a leading and visible state on the issue.
  • It would prevent passage of weaker immigration reform legislation in the special session.

Reasons supporting the general legislative mandate (and no ballot referral) included:

The initiative had gained significant media exposure to make the immigration reform politically "hot". With public scrutiny, it was less likely that mere token immigration reform legislation would be passed.

  • Reasonably solid immigration reform legislation could be passed immediately.
  • The People of Colorado already supported the initiative - their voices had been loudly heard.
  • The March, 2006 illegal alien marches had raised public awareness of the need to deal with the invasion.
  • With a direct ballot referral, no immigration-related legislation at all would be passed in the special session.

Additional important considerations:

  • There was a small chance that the voters could vote down the initiative if it was referred to the ballot.
  • If the initiative were passed, it almost certainly would have been challenged before the Colorado Supreme Court - the same Court that had earlier abandoned principle and ethics to strike down the initiative. This was the case with Arizona Proposition 200.
  • Court challenges would require time and money to fight, as was the case in Arizona with Prop 200.
  • If the initiative had passed Court challenges, implementation and funding would then become the responsibility of the legislature in 2007 - when public pressure would have faded.
  • Implementation would therefore be delayed until a year later when the 2007 session ended, or possibly longer in the case of lengthy court challenges.

Defend Colorado Now's Position

The politically diversified Defend Colorado Now committee consisted of Fred Elbel, Waldo Benavidez, former Governor Dick Lamm (D-CO), and John Andrews (R-CO), former President of the Colorado Senate. After intense debate, the committee decided to support the more general objective of seeking immigration reform legislation in the special session. (See this letter.)

There were those who saw the DCN initiative as a perfect wedge issue that would leverage the acquisition of partisan political seats in the upcoming election. However, the fundamental purpose of the initiative was to address immigration in Colorado, not to facilitate more specific political agendas.

The decision was that a "bird in the hand" was worth a lot. (John Andrews dissented and subsequently resigned from DCN).

The Special Session

The special day-and-night six-day legislative session began on July 6, 2006. Dick Lamm worked intensely behind the scene with the Democratic leadership in order to negotiate meaningful legislation. Fred engaged in ongoing strategy sessions with the DCN committee and advisors. Mike Hethmon of IRLI was particularly helpful.

Fred Elbel, Stan Weekes, and Waldo Benavidez observed the House and Senate sessions. We definitely confirmed the old adage that "lobbying consists of long periods of sheer boredom punctuated with moments of sheer desperation and panic".

The Results

The Special Session passed a dozen immigration-related bills, which the Governor signed into law. The more important bills include:

HB (House Bill) 1023 - This bill limits state services to illegal aliens and embodies the essence of the DCN initiative and is similar to section 9 of the strong Georgia Bill passed in 2006. The was the most important reform bill to come out of the session.

HB 1023 requires each applicant who applies for public benefits to affirm that they are lawfully present in the country, and thus denies most non-emergency services to illegal aliens over the age of 18. Those seeking benefits must present valid ID (from a list determined by the Colorado Department of Revenue) and sign a non-notarized affirmation of lawful presence. If a legal alien utilizes a green card, verification of the A-number is confirmed with US Citizenship and Immigration Services via the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlement (SAVE) program. Illegal aliens will continue to receive federally mandated services, including K-12 education, but are denied a multitude of previously obtainable services.

Other bills include HB 1017, HB 1009 , SB 90, HB 1306, HB 1343.

See this summary of 2006 Colorado immigration legislation.

2006 - A good year

The Defend Colorado Now initiative was instrumental in bringing the immigration issue to the forefront and gaining the passage of immigration legislation in Colorado. As is typically the case, that legislation could be improved - but it was a solid step forward.

- Fred Elbel