When Democrats regained control of the Colorado legislature in 2019, they began taking action in response to President Donald Trump and the ailing Congress.
This included passing legislation on environmental, immigration and criminal justice issues. Recently, state lawmakers have also taken on an economic easing of the coronavirus and are preparing to discuss creating a public health insurance option.
But with two surprising victories for the Democrats earlier this month in the Georgia Senate run-off, along with President-elect Joe Biden taking office on Wednesday, priorities may change. The new democratic control in Washington, D.C. likely means that policies will be addressed at the federal level that the Colorado Democrats had expected to address at the state Capitol.
“It’s a new day. It’s a new administration. It’s a new opportunity,” said the state senator, Julie Gonzales to the Denver Democrat. “I think we’re all going to watch closely to see what they do.”
Gonzalez is a leading advocate of immigration in the legislature, and has fought to expand protections for people who live in the United States illegally. She ran for office in 2018 in an effort to limit the ability of US immigration and customs authorities to “transgress the boundaries of state and local government.” Now, she is using the time before the legislature meets on February 16th to rethink what is at the top of her policy to-do list.
With Biden Promising To create a citizenship pathway for people living in the United States illegally and immigration enforcement policies that are expected to be far more lenient than those of the Trump era, the bills it was planning to file this year may not be relevant.
“There is a lot of hope and excitement to see what the administration will include in their package,” Gonzales said. “And what do they leave?”
House Speaker Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat, said the way Congress acts on the environment and economic aid for the coronavirus will definitely shape the policies at state headquarters.
He said that “even gun safety legislation” in Colorado could be affected.
If Democrats in Congress agree to a public option first, it may not be necessary for the state to follow a similar program, said State Rep. Dylan Roberts, an Avon Democrat who plans to advocate a measure establishing a public health insurance option in Colorado this year.
But he said, “Congress has moved much slower than we do statewide.”
And this is where things get tricky for State House Democrats, because it’s not clear how long it will take for Democrats in Congress to process their plans and whether they can pass it at all.
The state senator said: “On the one hand, we urgently need to know what the Feds will do.” Jeff Bridges, to a Greenwood Village Democrat. “On the other hand, we cannot wait.”
The U.S. Senate will now split between 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as the watershed. With such a narrow majority, the most controversial Democratic bills may still lack enough votes to pass. US Senator Michael Bennett said Senate Republican Party leader Mitch McConnell would remain a major obstacle.
Bennett said, “As long as Mitch McConnell remains in the Senate, it’s never easy. It’s never going to be easy.”
Democratic US Senator in Colorado. John Hickenlooper, who served eight years as governor, said he believed that parallel Democratic majorities at the state and federal levels would simplify cooperation. This is especially true for climate change policies.
“I think having the Biden administration, where it will not have to retreat from this kind of faulty thinking, would be an advantage in itself,” Hickenlooper said.
Conversely, Bennett said that Democrats in Congress would likely look to take pages of the rulebook run by Democrats in the Colorado legislature on issues such as public choice and police accountability.
“Colorado is the first state to pass modern police accountability legislation and is very much in line with what Cory Booker and Kamala Harris have presented here,” Bennett said of his fellow Democrats in the US Senate.
Republicans form a minority in the Colorado legislature, but they will likely look to ways to advance policies against the dual Democratic majorities in Washington and the state assembly. Senate Republican Leader Chris Holbert said, “You might definitely see some bills going in that direction.”
However, Rep. Parker said he often explains to his conservative electors that the legislature has little influence over the federal power. But he sees benefits for his party at the state level because he believes the electorate will be frustrated with the direction of the nation and the state.
“Gosh, if people think over the next year or year and a half that Democrats need more control in Colorado, I don’t understand that,” Holbert said.
Bennett said he hoped Biden and the Democrats would not spend all of their political capital at once and would put their majority at risk.
He said: “We just need to deal with it in a way that the American people can understand that it is not just a matter of more innovative government for the sake of more governments.”