DENVER — Colorado lawmakers will convene this week for the 73rd session of the General Assembly as elected officials work on their priorities for legislation.
Ahead of Wednesday's opening of this year's session, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers was joined by local law enforcement as they asked everyone to closely follow the next 6 months of debate over potential laws and changes in the state. Meanwhile, Democrats who lead in the Governor's Mansion, State Senate and State House rolled out their plan to 'move Colorado forward.'
During a Monday morning event, Mayor Suthers and El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder both expressed their concerns that the upcoming session may lower the punishment for some crimes.
El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder offered fentanyl as an example as it had recently been decriminalized from a felony-level to a misdemeanor level.
House Bill 19-1263 went into effect in March of 2020 and makes the possession of four grams or less of certain drugs a misdemeanor charge.
In 2019, State Senator Pete Lee said the goal of the bill was to get people in treatment for drug possession and that the law doesn't change the felony level of people who have large quantities of drugs.
According to 4th Judicial Attorney Michael Allen, around 90-100 overdose deaths are estimated in 2021 as a result of the bill.
"If you feel more safe, then we should continue doing what we're doing. If you feel less safe, then you should pay attention to that," said Sheriff Elder.
Deputy Chief Adrian Vasquez also expressed concerns with past and upcoming legislation relating to crime. He referenced SB21-721, which goes into effect in March. The bill reduces misdemeanor classifications and petty offenses and downgrades some felonies to misdemeanors. Vasquez said this means if someone broke into your car, it would be downgraded from a Class 5 felony to a misdemeanor and that the suspect would be served a court summons.
Mayor Suthers, who is a former Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections and Colorado Attorney General, has long emphasized his support of law enforcement. During the press conference, he claims Colorado's recidivism rate, which is the rate of offenders re-offending, is among the top five in the country. Mayor Suthers did acknowledge that crime in Colorado Springs has been historically low.
Like Mayor Suthers, Governor Polis has also acknowledged that crime has gone up across the country, and said public safety is a main issue they plan to tackle in the legislative session. Senate President Leroy Garcia from Pueblo said that lawmakers plan to put $1 billion toward crime challenges which will include investments in mental health and investigative resources.
Crime rates from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation can be found below:
- 2019: 25,011 cases; clearance 49%
- 2020: 27,166 cases; 47% clearance
- 2021: 28,824; 39% clearance
- *not complete data, missing some of Q4
Colorado Springs Violent Crime:
- 2019: 3,204 cases; 47% clearance
- 2020: 3,235 cases; 50% clearance
- 2021: 2,712 cases; 21% clearance.
- *not complete data, missing some of Q4
Governor Polis also held a press conference with Lieutenant Governor Dianne Primavera, Senate President Leroy Garcia, House Speaker Alec Garnett, Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg and House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar.
In their press conference, Governor Polis stressed the importance of this legislative session to help Colorado families financially and to announce how they would use federal funds.
The main focus for the press conference centered around the following topics:
- Helping Colorado families save money
- Expanding access to healthcare and helping to reduce costs
- Make Colorado affordable by reducing childcare and housing costs
- Help prepare students for success
- Making Colorado communities safer
The governor began the press conference by talking about how costs are going up, hurting families so he want to find ways to save people money.
“We're committed all saving Coloradans money and reducing costs, whether it's cutting fees, reducing healthcare costs, saving money on childcare or education, focusing on protecting our way of life and making our state more affordable for everyone,” Polis said. “We're open to additional fee relief including reducing vehicle registration fees, gas and driver's license fee reductions, making it free to start a business in Colorado.”
The massive transportation bill sets to implement new fees on everything from gas to retail delivery to ride shares starting this summer.
Polis said during the press conference that now is not the time for families to face more costs so he would like to show people relief at the pump by delaying some fees.
Democratic member of the House, Alec Garnett, announced plans to direct nearly $400 million of federal funds into strategies that help reduce the cost of housing like creating a revolving loan fund to finance affordable housing projects and look into financing the creation of thousands of prefabricated homes.
"Our work will make sure that if you work hard and do your fair share, you will have a fair shot at the American dream and the amazing Colorado way of life," said House Speaker Alec Garnett.
The 73rd Colorado General Assembly begins on Jan. 12.