DENVER — Colorado lawmakers have more than 200 bills left to debate, amend and possibly pass before the legislative session ends. When exactly that end date will be, though, is still unclear.
Normally, the session runs for 120 consecutive days. However, after a Colorado Supreme Court ruling last year for how legislative sessions work during a declared public health emergency, lawmakers were able to pause their work for a month in January and then pick up right where they left off.
The new must-adjourn date is June 12, however, the House and Senate democratic leadership are hoping to end the session before then.
“I feel really good about where we’re positioned. Obviously, there’s still a lot of work ahead of us, but that’s normal this time of year,” Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, said. “We still have so much important work to do.”
Before that can happen, however, lawmakers need to work through numerous bills, including some that are yet to be introduced. Here’s a closer look at some of the biggest bills that are left:
Senate Bill 260 was introduced relatively late in the session after months of stakeholder work.
“It’s not that anybody wants to hold it off until the end of the session, it’s just that we’ve given ourselves that space to make sure that the bill we present is one that can actually be implemented,” Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, said.
It would raise $5.3 billion in transportation funding over 11 years. Roughly $3.8 billion would come from raising fees on gasoline, delivery, electric vehicle registrations, ride-share services and more. The other $1.5 billion would come from the state’s general fund.
It already passed the Senate and on Friday passed second readings in the House. It is now awaiting a final reading.
Criminal justice reform
One of the most contentious bills of the legislative session, Senate Bill 62 was postponed indefinitely after facing sharp criticism from the law enforcement community.
However, another bill, Senate Bill 273, was introduced in its place with some of the same language. It would prohibit a police officer from arresting someone for a traffic offense, petty offense and certain non-violent misdemeanor crimes.
It also prohibits judges from issuing a monetary bond for those offenses, as well as non-violent Class 4, 5 and 6 felonies. It also allows the defendant to fail to appear two times before being issues a cash bond.
“Criminal justice issues haven’t gone away just because we passed a monumental bill last year. So there's still a lot of folks in this building who are really working hard to figure out a way to make sure that the criminal justice system is just,” Esgar said.
The bill passed the Senate on Thursday and is on its way to the House for debate.
Another criminal justice bill still working through the legislature offers reforms to misdemeanor crimes. Senate Bill 271 is 366 pages long and would get rid of Class 3 misdemeanor crimes altogether and reclassify them.
It also reduces the number of petty offenses to one instead of two. A Class 1 misdemeanor would be punishable by up to 364 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. A Class 2 misdemeanor would be punishable by up to 120 days in jail and $70 in fines. A petty offense would be punishable by up to 10 days in jail and a $300 fine.
The bill stems from months of work by the state’s criminal and juvenile justice commission and has bipartisan support. It passed with a unanimous vote in the Senate and is on its way to the House.
After last year’s sweeping police reforms, the legislature is considering even more changes with House Bill 1250.
The bill ends the qualified immunity for Colorado State Patrol, putting the agency in line with its local counterparts and opening the door for civil lawsuits over misconduct.
The bill passed the House in mid-May and is in Senate awaiting debate and a vote.
Lawmakers are also still considering a bill that would change reporting requirements when it comes to potentially problematic officers. Senate Bill 174 stems back to a 1963 Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland where the justices ruled that suppressing evidence favorable to a defendant who has requested it violates their due process.
With this bill, law enforcement agencies would be required to send the officer’s name and agency to the district attorney’s office. That information would then need to be turned over to the defense to determine whether to subpoena the officer’s record.
The bill has gone through several changes but passed the Senate and is making its way through the House.
One of the major focuses for the 2021 legislative session was how to use the state stimulus funding to best help people and businesses recover from the pandemic.
Of the roughly 35 stimulus bills that were debated, a handful are left and a few more are being introduced.
“Plus, we have federal dollars that are going to be coming in shortly as well, so we’re trying to figure out exactly how it is that we can craft some of this legislation by the end of the session to make sure we have control over those dollars to make sure they’re being implemented in good ways,” Esgar said.
Colorado will be receiving roughly $3.9 billion from the federal government in stimulus funding. Some of it must be spent in specific ways dictated by the federal government while other funding is more flexible.
“Some of that we have to decide, how we’re gonna allocate that $3.9 billion immediately. We also have bills to set up accounts to where we could put that money,” Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, said. “It’s important that we look at the federal funding and understand that we don’t have to allocate all of that right now or even this year or even this fiscal year or next.”
This legislative session, there have been six bills introduced and debated dealing with firearms. Three that were brought to session in the wake of the Boulder King Soopers shooting are still being debated. They include one to tighten background checks, one to create an Office of Gun Violence Prevention and one to given localities the right to pass stricter gun laws than the state.
Another bill, which would force some domestic abusers to give up their firearms, is also still making its way through the legislative process.
Among the other bills still waiting to be debated: a climate change bill to limit air pollution, health care bills, including one to limit insulin costs, a bill to restrict the use of ketamine by first responders in the wake of the death of Elijah McClain, a bill to limit the use of plastics, women’s health bills, a wildfire mitigation bill, election bills and more.
Garcia is confident the legislature will be able to finish all of the work and doesn’t necessarily think this year’s to-do list is much different that previous years. However, he and the other state lawmakers are bracing themselves for long nights and possibly a few working weekends.