Republican state. Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud posted on his Facebook page that the decision on whether to fund the Civil Rights Commission, which is embroiled in a U.S. Supreme Court fight over a discrimination case, is predicated on whether the commission can survive a sunset review of its authority.
Gov. John Hickenlooper’s spokesperson Jacque Montgomery told Colorado Politics that the Civil Rights Commission and its staff “are charged with protecting Coloradans from unlawful discrimination and promoting equal protection in areas such as housing and employment. Refusing to fund the commission is puzzling at best, and sends the wrong message to Coloradans – and businesses looking to move to Colorado – on the state’s commitment to equal rights.”
Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran, a Denver Democrat, is sponsoring the sunset review bill that would reauthorize the civil rights commission and division. She was equally disturbed by the decision, stating early Thursday afternoon that Republican members of the JBC “are undermining key protections for Coloradans against discrimination. The CCRD is up for sunset review this year, and preemptively trying to defund it is an outrageous move.”
The commission is housed within the Division of Civil Rights, part of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA). The vote on the civil rights funding was part of the JBC’s Thursday decision-making for DORA’s 2018-19 budget.
The vote to table the commission and division’s funding split along party lines, with Democrats in favor of funding the agency and Republicans opposed. A deadlocked vote means the funding was not approved.
Senate Republicans have indicated they want to see changes in how commissioners are appointed to the seven-member body as well as changes to agency decision-making.
The commission and division are up for a sunset review in the 2018 legislative session that would reauthorize it to continue its mission. A separate division within DORA, which conducts sunset reviews for state agencies, recommended both be continued for another nine years.
The cost for the two groups is about $2.5 million per year, with $438,000 of that coming from federal funds.
The commission is currently awaiting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case that dates back to 2012, when a same-sex couple sought a wedding cake from the Lakewood bakery. The owner, Jack Phillips, refused, citing his religious opposition to same-sex marriage.
The couple took Phillips and his bakery to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which ruled the bakery discriminated against the couple based on their LGBTQ status, prohibited under state law.
Phillips appealed to the state Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the couple, and then to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in the case in December. A ruling is expected in the spring.
Lawmakers and civil rights advocates were quick to weigh in on the JBC decision.
Democratic state Sen. Dominick Moreno of Commerce City, a JBC member, told reporters that he believes the issue of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case and funding for the commission is related.
Republicans “want to limit what the office of civil rights does,” Moreno, who is gay, added. “I don’t see how limiting their work benefits anyone in Colorado.”