From The Denver Post (Saja Hindi and Alex Burgess):
A new legislative session is kicking off this week in Colorado, but it won’t really get going until February.
A batch of new Colorado state lawmakers will be sworn in Wednesday, and the legislature plans to pass about seven mostly minor bills this week. When they return Feb. 16, there will be backlogs of popular bills that were sidelined in the pandemic-shortened 2020 session, plus many new priorities.
Democrats are still in control, now with an expanded Senate majority. That means until at least 2022, the GOP will have its say but rarely its way…
Short, distanced start
Lawmakers will work quickly this week to pass time-sensitive bills and meet constitutional requirements before their break…
Ask nearly any lawmaker what they’re plotting for 2021, and they’ll tell you they want to do everything possible to address the coronavirus’ ripple effects.
But the public should temper its expectations, budget officials say, because there’s a limited pot of money for grants, direct payments and new programs…
It is often the case that bills die — or never get introduced in the first place — not because of their merits but because lawmakers are nervous about how much they cost.
We’ll likely be seeing a lot of that in 2021, given the budget outlook. Take, for example, the bipartisan and generally popular proposal to eliminate the wait list for state-funded in-home care for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Last year was supposed to be the year they committed more than $160 million over seven years to the program, but pandemic hits, plan scrapped…
Is the momentum for social justice still there?
The legislature last year repealed the death penalty and passed a police reform package inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Lawmakers vowed then that they would not relent on matters of criminal justice and law enforcement.
There’s plenty on the table for 2021, including banning no-knock warrants and restricting the use of ketamine against people detained by police. The latter is particularly close to home: First responders injected Elijah McClain with ketamine after he was violently detained by Aurora police in 2019…
Members of the public will have the opportunity to testify on bills in person, remotely or submit written testimony as they were able to do during the special legislative session, but it will likely be limited. People interested in testifying will need to sign up ahead of time at http://leg.colorado.gov.
They can also contact their lawmakers directly. To find out who your legislator is, go to http://leg.colorado.gov/find-my-legislator. To contact lawmakers by phone or email, go to http://leg.colorado.gov/legislators…
Transportation funding, finally?
Plenty of people on both sides of the aisle have sought and failed to obtain a funding boost for Colorado’s chronically underfunded transportation system. This year, there’s real optimism for a breakthrough.
The latest plan involves raising certain fees — remember, Colorado lawmakers can’t raise taxes, but they can raise closely related fees — on things like gas and electric vehicle usage in order to generate money for transportation projects…
Can House Republicans get along?
Democrats have a strong 20-15 advantage in the Senate and in the House, it’s not even close — 41 of the 65 seats.
Having hemorrhaged power and influence in the House in recent years, GOP state representatives turned on last year’s minority leader, Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, and replaced him with Rep. Hugh McKean of Loveland…
Public option, take two
Last year, sponsors shelved an effort to implement a hybrid public health insurance option that would have provided Coloradans who buy insurance on the individual market another option.
Its return in 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic will likely bring more conflict between supporters and hospital groups. But one of its sponsors, Avon Democratic Rep. Dylan Roberts said the bill will look very different, because it takes into account the changes to health care due to COVID…
A renewed push for gun legislation
Colorado House Rep. Tom Sullivan was beyond disappointed last year that proposed gun reforms were shelved when COVID arrived. The Centennial Democrat pledged last year to bring gun legislation to the forefront of the 2021 session, and he plans to make good on that promise…
After a year of raging wildfires, shrinking water flows and record heat, Colorado’s Democratic lawmakers are planning to address climate and environmental policies.
“Unfortunately, it’s been a big issues for years and I think we’re sort of behind in where we need to be,” Fenberg said. “We basically don’t have the luxury of being able to take a year off of thinking critically about getting our emissions under control.”
Topics on deck include air-quality issues, improving the electric transmission grid in Colorado, addressing issues of methane leaks, a greenhouse road map and increasing the use of energy storage equipment in Colorado.
Westminster Democratic Sen. Faith Winter said climate mitigation is also important for communities of color and others who are disproportionately affected by pollution. She’s working on a bill to better define environmental justice and impacted communities, and also intends to address issues of environment in transportation funding bills.
“Climate change is a huge threat to our state,” she said. “It’s a threat to individual people’s health,” she said. “It’s a threat to our economy.”
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
Because of the ongoing pandemic, lawmakers will only meet for three days this week, and then it will go into a recess until mid-February.
“Clearly, there’s going to be a change to how the 73rd General Assembly is going to get started,” said House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver. “Everything is going to look a lot different than it has in the past. We’re still in the midst of a once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic, and the bulk of our work won’t start in earnest until Feb. 16 when we all come back from our temporary adjournment.”
Under the Colorado Constitution, the Legislature can only meet for 120 days. But after the pandemic hit at the start of last year’s session, Democratic leaders decided to recess for an extended period because of it, after Gov. Jared Polis issued his first COVID-19 executive order calling for a state of emergency…
So as a result of this built-in recess, which could be extended or ended early depending on what happens with coronavirus infection rates, lawmakers don’t plan to do much in these first three days…
Beyond typical beginning-of-session matters, including provisions to allow for lawmakers to participate in floor debates and committee hearings remotely, lawmakers have only a handful of bills they expect to address by Friday, one of which is to fix a problem with a bill approved during last month’s special session.
That was on a $57 million Small Business Relief Program, which is intended to provide grants and fee waivers to businesses most impacted by the downturned economy, particularly to restaurants and night clubs.
The bill also sets aside money for hard-hit minority-owned businesses, a provision that currently is facing a lawsuit filed by the white owner of a Colorado Springs barbershop…
Starting on Thursday, counties across the state are accepting applications for that money, and will do so until early February.
Businesses that qualify will then get their share, but how much will depend on how many apply and how much each county is allocated.
Under the bill, money is to go to very small businesses, primarily those hardest hit by the pandemic, such as restaurants, bars, distilleries, wineries, caterers, movie theaters, fitness centers and other recreational facilities, but only those with annual revenues of less that $2.5 million and only if they are following local public health orders.
Because of the monthlong recess, individual lawmakers were given more time to introduce their first three bills — under the law, they are allowed up to five — until the Legislature reconvenes in February.
Meanwhile, the four leaders in the House and Senate from both parties have approved committee assignments for legislators.
Locally, that means that Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, will serve on the Senate Transportation & Energy and Finance committees, while Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, will be on the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources and transportation committees.
Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat whose district includes Delta County, will serve as chairwoman of the agriculture committee. She also will serve on the transportation panel, and is the newly chosen Senate pro temp, the second highest-ranking position.
In the House, Rep. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction, will be on the House Transportation & Local Government, Appropriations and Finance committees, while Rep. Perry Will, R-New Castle, will be on the House Agriculture, Livestock & Water Committee with Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose.
Will also will serve on the transportation committee, while Catlin also will be on the House Energy & Environment Committee.
Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, was taken off the House Judiciary Committee where he served during his first term in office. Instead, he will be on the House Health & Insurance Committee and the energy panel.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, will continue to be on the Joint Budget Committee. The two local lawmakers also will serve on the appropriations committees in their respective chambers.
From The Colorado Sun (John Frank):
Here’s a look at the bills lawmakers will debate this week before taking a break
Legislative leaders said not to expect a robust policy agenda at the start of the session, but rather “minor things we need to get done that are time sensitive,” Garnett said.
So far, nine bill drafts are on the table. One of the first would allow lawmakers to participate remotely in legislative meetings and conduct certain committee hearings even while the General Assembly is temporarily adjourned. Democratic leaders said they plan to conduct oversight hearings — known as SMART Act reviews — for state departments and agencies before returning in February. The public would be allowed to participate remotely.
In addition, the Joint Budget Committee will continue to meet behind closed doors with the public not permitted to attend but allowed to listen online.
The other legislation being considered in the first days would:
Change the requirements for a small business relief fund approved in December’s special session to apply to more than just minority-owned businesses, a move designed to nullify a lawsuit stating that the new law was unconstitutional and discriminatory. Extend the deadlines to continue to allow for electronic wills and further suspend debt collection due to the pandemic. Recreate regulations and licensing benchmarks on occupational therapists after lawmakers inadvertently repealed the requirements.