73rd General Assembly adjourns, with historic moves made on transportation, tax policy, mental health care | Legislature
The final days of the legislative session in Colorado is often described as a marathon, with the General Assembly covering the hard miles with late nights in committee and on the floor to wrap up its work in the face of looming deadlines to adjourn.
Lawmakers on Tuesday certainly had their running shoes laced up, but the last day of the session transformed into a sprint, and then a slog. But at 7:41 p.m., the House crossed the finish line and adjourned.
The House started off with about 50 bills left on their plate, including final votes on the property tax measure (Senate Bill 293), and decisions regarding Senate amendments on House bills.
Among them: marijuana concentrates (House Bill 1317), outdoor cultivation of cannabis (House Bill 1301), a ban on single-use plastics (House Bill 1162), limiting the use of ketamine in law enforcement actions (House Bill 1251), and a measure on law enforcement accountability (House Bill 1250).
Lawmakers spent hours crafting, fine-tuning, negotiating and debating the merits of those measures, but it would be difficult to discern that based on the Tuesday’s House action. The chamber sped through its calendar in a tidy three hours with only one piece of legislation, SB 293, garnering more than five minutes of consideration. The bill won 42-23 approval from the House, with Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, voting with the Democrats.
The measure from Sens. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, and Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and Reps. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, and Matt Gray, D-Broomfield, is a two-year property tax relief bill that critics say is an end run around a November ballot measure that also seeks to reduce property taxes, but on a permanent basis.
The third reading debate on SB 293 stretched 13 minutes, a bulk of which taken up by Watkins Republican Rep. Rod Bockenfeld objecting to what described as a “scheme” to undercut Initiative 27, a ballot measure being pushed by Colorado Rising Action that is currently gathering signatures for the November election.
If SB 293 is signed, it would change the statute that Initiative 27 affects. Instead of permanent property tax reductions for all property types, because of SB 293 the initiative would affect only lodging and multi-family housing, such as apartments, condos, townhomes and duplexes.
The House also considered the veto of House Bill 1092, a measure to allow a candidate for lieutenant governor to simultaneously run for another office. The last time a veto was challenged was during the Owens administration in 2006, according to bill sponsor Rep. Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs.
Polis had several objections to the bill, as cited in his veto letter on May 7.
“The people of Colorado deserve no less than Candidates who run for the office in which they intend to serve, not some office that only serves as a backup to them,” Polis wrote. “HB 21-1092 diminishes these principles, instead applying the ‘fishing with dynamite’ method to elections — whatever lands on shore will work.”
Williams pointed out that the bill got overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House (44 votes) and Senate (30 votes) and no one testified against it. “if you believed in the policy then, please believe in it now,” he asked. But in asking for a “no” vote, Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, who originally voted for the bill, said “a veto override is a different threshold for me.”
Would Williams’ plea for lawmakers to hold to their votes be enough to overturn a veto that would surely irritate the governor? As it turns out, no. The bill, which needed 44 votes to overturn the veto in the House, got just 30, although 10 Democrats did vote to override.
In the Senate, which didn’t start until 10 a.m., the calendar was considerably lighter: a handful of third reading votes, including House Bill 1266, the bill that has become the vehicle for climate change legislation.
The longest debate on Tuesday was on House amendments to Senate Bill 87, the bill that would allow farmworkers to join unions and engage in collective bargaining. The House spent several hours Monday night debating the merits of the bill, passing it on a party-line vote. The Senate adopted the amendments and re-passed the bill, also on a party-line vote.
But unlike their House counterparts, Senate lawmakers proceeded at a pace more akin to normal.
The Senate adjourned for the year just after 4 p.m.
But before senators went their separate ways, Majority Leader Steve Fenberg of Boulder had this to say about the session, and the pandemic-shortened one before it.
“We’ve been through a lot these last 18 months,” which seems like a lifetime, he said. “We’ve recessed, we’ve gone to court” (which drew high fives between Sens. Chris Holbert of Parker and John Cooke of Greeley). Fenberg then joked he was talking about the court case the Democrats won, not the one Republicans won in 2019. He also singled out Holbert for his leadership and friendship.
“After all we’ve been through together, I consider each and every one of you a friend, except for the senator from Montrose,” Fenberg said in another joke. “I’m proud to be in this chamber with each and every one of you, and as a chamber and as individuals got much closer. We figured out how to work with each other.”
There won’t be agreement all the time, he added, but “we’ve learned how to navigate one another’s disagreement much better than a couple of years ago.
“We’re a better institution for it.”
After that, it was off to the Capitol rotunda for the annual rubber band ball drop, won by the Senate Republicans whose ball had a secret core, according to Sen. Jim Smallwood of Parker, who refused to disclose its secret, claiming they are proprietary.
But while the Senate had its fun in the hallways of the Capitol, House lawmakers went back to work on House Bill 1266, the bill that was transformed into the session’s landmark greenhouse gas emissions bill on the second-to-last day of the session.
That drew strident opposition from GOP lawmakers, who cried foul over what they saw as abuses of the legislative process as the revamped bill sped through two Senate committee hearings, second and third readings in the Senate and reconsideration in the House in just over 31 hours.
“I just need to put on the record what a grotesque abuse of the legislative process this is,” said Rep. Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs.
But despite the objections of nearly every Republican in the chamber, the bill passed 37-27 with Democratic Reps. Don Valdez of La Jara, Adrienne Benavidez of Denver and Majority Leader Daneya Esgar of Pueblo joining their GOP colleagues in opposition.
That marked the end of legislative calendar, and the House adjourned for the session minutes later.