The General Assembly begins in Colorado on Wednesday, but leaders describe it as “soft openness.”
The state legislature plans to act for three days before adjourning the session through February 16 – a move designed to curb potential exposure to COVID-19 as the number of cases rises.
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The deadline wipes out the bulk of lawmakers on the road for at least a month, but Democrat-led councils say they need to pass a handful of time-sensitive bills to address mistakes from the preconditions.
Here’s what to expect this week – and a look at the remainder of 2021.
How will the concept of “soft openness” work on the Capitol in this session
The legislative session usually begins with a little pomp. Joyful mood as lawmakers met with handshakes and hugs. The coronavirus pandemic will eliminate many of these feelings, and some lawmakers may appear from their homes.
The other big moments come from Inauguration week when Democratic and Republican leaders in each room give speeches setting their agendas and their approach to the session, and the governor delivers. Jared Polis gives his state of the state speech the next day. The speech will now wait until February.
Representative Alec Garnett, the incoming speaker of the House of Representatives, said the wrong start was “unfortunate but it is the reality of the world we live in.”
The three-day session corresponds to how long it takes for the bill to pass through both houses under the statutory deadlines.
The start of the split is very unusual, but it reflects what happened in 2020 when cases of COVID-19 began to spread in Colorado. The calendar is important because the state constitution states that lawmakers cannot meet for more than 120 days. But the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in April that the legislature can pause and restart the clock because the constitution is vague enough to allow compensatory days that come amid a public health emergency.
Senate Majority Leader Steve Veinberg, Democrat Boulder, said, “We will stay as long as we need to stay to get the necessary work done this year.” “It could be 100 days, it could be 120 days. I think it’s not a matter of how many days we spend there, it’s more about what we get done and how much time we will need to make it happen.”
How will the pandemic and security concerns affect the start
In addition to the schedule changes, the 2021 session will look different due to COVID-19 Protocols.
COVID-19 in Colorado
The latest from the Colorado virus outbreak:
- Direct Blog: The latest in closings, restrictions, and other major updates.
- a map: Cases and deaths in Colorado.
- Tests: Here’s where to find the community testing site. The state now encourages anyone showing symptoms to get tested.
- a story: The governor says Colorado will reformulate its telephony system once people age 70 or older are vaccinated
Legislators will have access to daily exams at the Capitol and must wear masks and practice social distancing, just as they did in the special session in December. Legislators will also have early access to vaccines before work resumes in February.
Initially, the security presence at the Capitol is also expected to be strengthened due to the FBI warning about the national threat of armed protests in the state Capitol before the January 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, and the attack on the US Capitol earlier in the day. This month.
Democratic leaders acknowledge that security is a concern. “Nobody watches what we watch on TV and does not care and does not think about the calls to action that are being brought up there in all 50 states,” said Veinberg.
But Feinberg and other Democratic leaders have expressed confidence in the security preparations, saying the gangster scene on the U.S. Capitol will not be repeated in Denver.
More: Colorado lawmakers will get the COVID-19 vaccine ahead of thousands of others in the second phase
“At this point, I think we’re pretty confident that the state patrol is planning the worst-case scenario, hoping that won’t happen,” Feinberg said. “And we have no information that anything like what happened in the capital will happen in Colorado.”
Representative Hugh McCain, the Republican leader in the House, said his Republican colleagues “feel safe and I don’t think anyone is asking for more security.”
Here’s a look at the bills that lawmakers will debate this week before taking a breather
Garnett said legislative leaders said they did not expect a robust political agenda at the start of the session, but rather “secondary things that we need to accomplish that are time-sensitive.”
so far, Nine drafts of bills On the table. One of the first Allow legislators to participate remotely In legislative sessions and holding specific committee hearings even while the general assembly is temporarily in session. Democratic leaders said they plan to hold supervision hearings – known as the Smart’s Law Reviews – for state departments and agencies before returning in February. The audience will be allowed to participate remotely.
In addition, the Joint Budget Committee will continue to meet behind closed doors with audiences who are not allowed to attend but are allowed to listen online.
Other legislation being considered in the early days would:
House Majority Leader Dania Isgar, D-Pueblo, said: “While there is a temporary delay in being in the building and carrying out legislative work, I guarantee that no lawmaker takes a month off.”
Next step: Democratic leadership priorities remain murky
In interviews this week, Democratic leaders said they were still tampering with their broader agenda for the 2021 lawmaking period.
But the goals are expected to reflect the priorities the governor set out in a recent email to his supporters. These include “distributing vaccines on a large scale, helping families and companies get back on their feet again, addressing the unprecedented challenges facing our schools, and combating climate change.”
Garnett said that addressing the economic impacts of the pandemic will be of the utmost importance. “The critical issue for the 2021 session will be how the legislature prioritizes recovery during this very unique economic downturn in which we find ourselves,” he said.
Expanding access to healthcare is also expected to take higher the bills. Senator. Kerry Donovan, Phil Democrat and interim Senate speaker, said she and Representative Dylan Roberts, a Democrat from Avon, will introduce a bill to create a public health insurance option in Colorado. They offered a similar measure last year, but pushed it back when the pandemic struck
“It will look different than last year’s bill,” Donovan said at an event of the Chamber of Commerce in the Denver Metro on Tuesday, although she did not provide details. Republican leaders who spoke at the event said they are against the idea.
Democrats also plan to run bills that would:
- Create new gas fees to raise money for transportation projects
- Add weapon regulations to create waiting times and other new requirements
- Restrict the sharing of personal information between state government and federal immigration officials
- Abolish the current tax exemptions for various departments to enhance state revenues for education and other priority spending areas
Republicans and business groups are expected to strongly oppose abolishing any tax breaks. A similar effort that Democrats pushed into the legislature last year was toned down before it was passed. But after voters passed a cut in income tax in November that eliminated an estimated $ 150 million annually from the state budget, the urge to dig into sofa cushions and make up the difference is back.
“This choice that voters made in the fall will have a direct impact on a major source of revenue for the General Fund,” Donovan said. “When you remove a source of income, you need to know what we’re going to cut from the budget or how we’re going to address that gap. One way to address it is to modernize our tax credit system in Colorado.”
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