Sonnenberg looks back at highly aggressive session
Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling now has 13 legislative sessions under his belt. Prior to 2019, he spent four years in the Republican majority in the state Senate. But then came 2019, and he’s back to the minority.
And while he was shut out on leadership positions in 2019, he didn’t let that deter him from being a leader among his caucus, especially on rural issues.
“This was the most partisan” session ever, Sonnenberg told this reporter recently. The agenda by majority Democrats was more aggressive than ever, even compared to the infamous 2013 session when Democrats also held the trifecta: both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office. That session produced a rash of gun control bills that eventually led to recalls of two Senate Democrats, including the Senate president. A third Democratic senator resigned to avoid a recall.
“Democrats did things [in 2019] with no regard for rules or process,” Sonnenberg explained. That’s what led to some of the tactics Republicans employed, especially in the Senate. That included a lawsuit against Senate Democrats over the way they used computer programs to read a 2,023-page bill at length. Senate Republicans won an injunction in that case, and a trial is expected on the merits this summer.
Senate Republicans made 18 of those “read-at-length” requests during the session, beginning with the reading of the 2,023-page bill on March 11 and continuing until the session’s last week. Senate Republicans also held lengthy debates, allowed under the rules, that stretched out the amount of time on bills, even on measures that had unanimous support. “We were a nuisance” to the Democrats, Sonnenberg said. “We had to slow things down to get their attention.”
The last week of the session began with almost 300 bills — more than half of all the measures introduced in 2019 — still awaiting final resolution. The 598 bills introduced in 2019 was 123 fewer than in 2018, but in the final week, the General Assembly had 100 more bills left unresolved. That’s poor management by the Democrats, Sonnenberg claimed, although the Republican stall tactics certainly played a role.
That led to committee hearings, Sonnenberg said, where people got two minutes to present their views (such as for the immunization bill, House Bill 1312). “That’s not the way the Legislature is supposed to work.”
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