LIVE AT THE LEG: Updates from the Legislature’s final days

Colorado lawmakers rush to pass bills as the 2021 session draws to a close

Legislators, staff and an onlooker wait for the Colorado House of Representatives to meet in the body's chamber on June 11, 2020. (Andy Bosselman for Newsline)

The 73rd Colorado General Assembly convened on Jan. 13, and it has since made a significant mark on the the lives of Coloradans.

Gov. Jared Polis delivers his State of the State address in front of the House of Representatives at the Colorado Capitol on Feb. 17, 2021. (AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post, pool)

The three-day January meeting was a “soft opening,” and the Legislature, to allow time for COVID-19 case rates to decline, quickly adjourned before returning to work Feb. 16, a day before Gov. Jared Polis delivered his State of the State address.

In the last several months, members of the state House and Senate have proposed or enacted significant legislation related to health care, transportation, criminal justice reform, the environment and other matters of broad concern to Coloradans.

Much business is left for lawmakers to complete in the final days of the legislative session, which under Colorado’s Constitution must end by midnight on June 12. Find the latest news on bills, debates and bill signings on this page.

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2 weeks ago

5:52 pm

Colorado lawmakers move to establish immigration legal defense fund

By: Faith Miller

Rep. Kerry Tipper
State Rep. Kerry Tipper, D-Lakewood.

Colorado could soon join the small group of states that have created a fund to help low-income people pay for legal representation in immigration cases. Unlike defendants in criminal cases, people who face deportation from the United States don’t have the right to a public defender who will fight for them in immigration court.

House Bill 21-1194 would establish an immigration legal defense fund and seed it with $90,000 in the first year, and $85,000 in the second year. The fund would also be able to accept gifts, grants and donations.

The bill passed in the Senate on Thursday with some changes, and the House on Tuesday moved to approve the amended version.

Sponsors include Reps. Kerry Tipper, a Lakewood Democrat, and Naquetta Ricks, an Aurora Democrat, along with Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Democrat from Commerce City.

The six states that already have immigration legal defense funds include Washington, Oregon, California, Illinois, New York and New Jersey, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.

2 weeks ago

5:49 pm

Colorado lawmakers announce plans to stop operating under emergency rules

By: Faith Miller

In a public letter dated June 8, House and Senate leaders in the Colorado General Assembly announced plans to transition back to normal operations and stop operating under emergency rules, “with the worst of the pandemic behind us.”

That means in 2022, lawmakers are likely to meet for the 120 consecutive days normally required under Colorado’s Constitution, unless another emergency comes up. Since March 2020, legislators have been operating under Joint Rule 44, which governs what happens in emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. The rule had never before been activated, according to The Colorado Sun.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled last year that Joint Rule 44 allows legislators to pause in the middle of the session without counting against their 120-day limit. That happened last year when lawmakers took a break to let COVID-19 case rates go down, and again this year.

Members of the Colorado Legislative Council’s Executive Committee, which includes four Democrats and two Republicans, signed the June 8 letter. Those lawmakers are Senate President Leroy Garcia, Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, House Speaker Alec Garnett, House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar and House Minority Leader Hugh McKean.

In the “near future,” besides transitioning out of Joint Rule 44, the Executive Committee wrote it planned to create interim task forces that will “form recommendations on transformational uses of federal stimulus money for behavioral health, housing, and economic stimulus and relief as required pursuant to legislation enacted this session.”

In the final days of the session, few lawmakers or staff have been wearing masks in the Capitol, a visible sign of the pandemic’s dangers finally receding in Colorado — at least for vaccinated people.

Executive Committee Letter Next Steps for 2021 Interim June_8_2021

Last updated:5:52 pm

2 weeks ago

3:36 pm

House passes bill aimed at protecting rights of agricultural workers

By: Faith Miller

Jessie Danielson
State Sen. Jessie Danielson, a Democrat from Wheat Ridge, represents Colorado Senate District 20. (Colorado General Assembly photo)

The Colorado House on Monday passed a bill aimed at protecting the rights of agricultural workers, over protests from opponents who said it would decimate Colorado’s agricultural industry.

If signed into law by Gov. Polis, Senate Bill 21-87 would extend many of the same protections that exist for other groups of workers to the people who work on farms and ranches in the state.

The bill would allow agricultural workers to unionize, require employers to pay them a minimum wage and start a rulemaking process to set overtime pay standards. It would also provide protection from retaliation for workers who report safety concerns.

SB-87’s sponsors include Sens. Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge and Dominick Moreno of Commerce City, along with Reps. Karen McCormick of Longmont and Yadira Caraveo of Thornton.

SB-87 passed in the House with most Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans present opposed. Rep. Donald Valdez, a Democrat from La Jara, was the sole member of his party to vote against the bill.

On Tuesday, the Colorado Senate voted to approve House amendments to SB-87 and send it to the governor.

2 weeks ago

2:58 pm

Colorado Legislature passes new medical marijuana restrictions

By: Faith Miller

Colorado House Speaker Alec Garnett speaks about proposed legislation to address youth access to high-potency cannabis products at the Colorado Capitol on May 18, 2021. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

Proposed new restrictions on medical marijuana, aimed at reducing the use of high-potency products by young people, are on their way to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk.

The Senate overwhelmingly passed House Bill 21-1317 with amendments, and the House approved the Senate’s amendments on Tuesday — the final major step in the bill’s long journey before Polis could sign it into law.

“We need to be concerned about this industry and how it might be interfering with the intellectual development of our kids,” Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat, said on the Senate floor Thursday. “When you smoke cannabis or marijuana or all this other stuff that’s out there, there’s consequences associated with it, and we end up paying for it as taxpayers.”

Read more.

2 weeks ago

1:07 pm

Child sexual abuse bill gets watered down in General Assembly’s final days

By: Faith Miller

Mike Weissman
Rep. Mike Weissman, an Aurora Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, speaks on the House floor June 7, 2021. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

For decades, advocates of child sexual abuse survivors have been pushing for legislation like Senate Bill 21-88. Though SB-88 was somewhat watered down in the Colorado General Assembly’s final days, survivors of long-ago misconduct are likely to gain some new power under the bill.

SB-88 passed in the Colorado House on Tuesday by a vote of 50-14, with one lawmaker excused. All but three Democrats — Reps. Adrienne Benavidez of Adams County, Tom Sullivan of Centennial and Kerry Tipper of Lakewood — were in favor.

About half of House Republicans voted for SB-88, which was sponsored by Sens. Jessie Danielson, a Wheat Ridge Democrat, and Don Coram, a Montrose Republican, along with Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Commerce City Democrat, and Matt Soper, a Republican from Delta, in the House.

Read more.

2 weeks ago

12:11 pm

Behavioral Health Recovery Act passed by Colorado House lawmakers

By: Faith Miller

Sen. Brittany Pettersen represents the 22nd District in the Colorado Senate. (leg.colorado.gov)

After behavioral health programs fell victim to budget cuts in 2020, state lawmakers want to make sure that next time there’s an economic downturn, the programs aimed at preventing and treating addiction and mental illness won’t go away.

Senate Bill 21-137, also known as the Behavioral Health Recovery Act, passed in the Colorado House by a largely party-line vote of 42-23 on Tuesday. Rep. Mary Bradfield of Colorado Springs was the lone Republican to vote yes. Before the bill can head to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk, the Senate must approve changes made by the House.

SB-137 aims to restore permanent funding for various substance use and mental health initiatives, and lend those programs staying power. The bill’s sponsors include Sens. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, and Faith Winter, D-Westminster, along with Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, and Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood.

“Every year, we have to come back and ask for the same money for the same programs,” Pettersen said before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted on the bill April 5. “That’s a problem because we don’t have predictability for these programs and sustainability.”

Some of the money in SB-137 would also go toward new programs, such as addiction recovery services for people with mental health disorders.

In the bill’s first committee hearing, Republican Sens. Barbara Kirkmeyer of Brighton and Cleave Simpson of Alamosa were opposed.

“It’s going well beyond just restoring things,” Kirkmeyer said, questioning whether the bill’s millions of dollars in one-time and ongoing funding would be used to provide services in the most targeted manner possible.

2 weeks ago

11:43 am

Major ‘tax fairness’ overhaul passed by lawmakers, sent to governor’s desk

By: Newsline staff

The Colorado House of Representatives gave final approval late Monday night to two bills comprising a wide-ranging overhaul of the state’s tax code, proposing a variety of new and expanded tax benefits for low-income workers and families while reducing or eliminating many tax credits for businesses and the rich.

Read more.

Major ‘tax fairness’ overhaul passed by lawmakers, sent to governor’s desk

2 weeks ago

6:47 pm

Bill to limit the use of jail and cash bail for people awaiting court fails in committee

By: Moe Clark

A bill that sought to limit arrests and the use of cash bail for people accused of committing low-level, nonviolent offenses died in the House Finance committee on Monday.

At the heart of the legislation was a push to reduce the number of people being held in jail while awaiting trial — a group that is disproportionately represented by low-income individuals and people of color. 

The bill was named in honor of Michael Marshall and Marvin Booker, both Black men who died in Denver while being held in jail for minor, nonviolent offenses.

“Those voting against this bill obviously feel that the practice of arresting people for anything and everything and holding poor people in jail is a good system,” said Denise Maes, public policy director for the ACLU of Colorado, who testified in support of the bill. “I think it’s shameful that fear mongering and lies prevailed.”

Read more here.

2 weeks ago

5:52 pm

Lawmakers advance heavily-amended climate bill in compromise with Gov. Polis

By: Newsline staff

clock protesters
People dressed in clock costumes protest Gov. Jared Polis’ threat to veto Senate Bill 21-200 at the Colorado Capitol on June 7, 2021. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

As the Colorado General Assembly scrambles to wrap up the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers on Monday formalized a sweeping overhaul to a major piece of climate-change legislation, clearing the way for the bill to pass with support from Gov. Jared Polis, who had previously threatened to veto it.

In an abbreviated hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, lawmakers voted along party lines to amend House Bill 21-1266, which was passed by the lower chamber last month, and advance it to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The new version of HB-1266, a bill aimed at boosting the state’s environmental-justice efforts, includes several provisions salvaged from Senate Bill 21-200, which was backed by Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups but fiercely opposed by Polis, who said the bill would give “dictatorial authority” to state air-quality regulators. Sponsors of SB-200 announced the compromise after weeks of negotiations with the Polis administration.

Read more.

2 weeks ago

5:18 pm

Which government agencies store Coloradans’ personal data? Bill seeks answer

By: Faith Miller

House Minority Leader Hugh McKean
House Minority Leader Hugh McKean delivers a speech on legislators’ first day back at the Colorado Capitol, Feb. 16, 2021. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

The Colorado Senate on Monday passed a bipartisan bill aimed at improving data privacy in state government.

House Bill 21-1111 is led by Minority Leader Hugh McKean, a Loveland Republican, along with Democratic Sens. Jeff Bridges of Greenwood Village and Julie Gonzales of Denver. It would convene an advisory group to study which state agencies store Coloradans’ personal identifying information, who has access to the data, and whether the state could feasibly store and protect all of that data in one central place.

The original bill would have gone a lot further. Read more.

2 weeks ago

3:26 pm

Colorado bill to restrict ketamine use outside of hospitals is close to passing

By: Faith Miller

Elijah McClain memorial
A memorial at the site where 23-year-old Elijah McClain was violently detained by Aurora police in August 2019 while he was walking home from a convenience store. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)

Colorado Senate lawmakers on Monday passed an amended bill that would restrict first responders’ ability to administer ketamine, a powerful anesthetic that causes dissociation, when responding to a call for service.

Among other provisions, HB-1251 would require emergency medical services providers, in situations with law enforcement present, to administer ketamine only to someone after weighing the individual or after having three trained people estimate the individual’s weight, to make sure the right dose is delivered. The paramedic would have to try to get verbal permission from the EMS director before administering ketamine.

The House did not agree with the Senate’s changes to HB-1251. So, lawmakers from both chambers met in a conference committee on Thursday to hash out their differences.

The Senate re-passed the compromise bill that emerged from the committee, but the House must also approve it before it can go to Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, for his signature.

Read more.

Last updated:3:27 pm

2 weeks ago

1:30 pm

Bill to remove Colorado proof of citizenship requirements passes House

By: Faith Miller

Sonya Jaquez Lewis
State Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, a Democrat from Boulder County, represents Colorado Senate District 17. (Colorado General Assembly photo)

A bill to let people apply for certain public benefits and licenses without providing proof of lawful presence in the U.S. is just a few steps away from passing in the final days of Colorado’s 2021 legislative session.

Senate Bill 21-199 — sponsored by Democratic Sens. Sonya Jaquez Lewis of Boulder County and Faith Winter of Westminster, along with House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, a Pueblo Democrat, and Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, a Democrat from Denver — would repeal provisions of Colorado laws, passed in 2006, that prevented undocumented immigrants from accessing countless state and local programs.

The House on Monday approved SB-199 by a vote of 41-23 along party lines, with one lawmaker excused. The Senate must approve House amendments before the bill would go on to Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, for his signature.

Federal law prevents states or local governments from providing public benefits and licenses to people who aren’t lawfully present in the U.S., explained Allison Neswood, deputy director of strategic priorities for the Colorado Center on Law and Policy. (Neswood worked with the bill sponsors to craft SB-199 and spoke at its first committee hearing in April.)

However, Neswood testified, federal law would allow Colorado to exempt itself from that “blanket ban” if the state repeals its 2006-era verification requirements and passes a law that “affirmatively provides for eligibility.”

“It’s unfortunate that our federal and state statutes are a tangle of anti-immigrant sentiment and outright discrimination,” Neswood said. “With SB-199, we have a significant opportunity to start rewriting that story.”

Jacy Montoya Price, advocacy director for the Colorado Children’s Campaign — which supports SB-199 — noted in an April interview that the bill could lead to more licensed child care providers, of whom there is a shortage in the state.

“With this, we’re hoping that many of our informal child care providers who may or may not have documentation … will be able to become licensed, and provide that necessary infrastructure, service, within our communities,” Montoya Price said.

Last updated:1:33 pm

3 weeks ago

11:45 am

Historic $5.3 billion transportation bill sent to governor’s desk

By: Newsline staff

Lawmakers in the Colorado General Assembly last week gave final approval to a $5.3 billion transportation funding package, sending the historic measure to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk to be signed into law.

Historic $5.3 billion transportation bill sent to governor’s desk

Last updated:11:49 am

3 weeks ago

11:23 am

Colorado Option health care bill limps closer to finish line, with one House vote to go

By: Newsline staff

House Bill 21-1232 started out as a framework for a public option health insurance plan that would have been established by the state if private insurance carriers failed to lower premium rates for plans on Colorado’s individual market. Now, HB-1232 looks much different — and would do far less to change the health insurance landscape — but it’s still one of the most polarizing bills of the legislative session.

Colorado Option health care bill limps closer to finish line, with one House vote to go