Gov. Jared Polis elbow bumps House Speaker Alec Garnett after being introduced by Senate President Leroy Garcia. Polis delivered his State of the State address at the Colorado State Capitol Building on Feb. 17, 2021. (Pool photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)
Colorado lawmakers passed 503 bills this session, more than in any of the previous eight years, according to a Wednesday report from the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Legal Services.
While fewer bills were introduced in 2021 than in 2020, 2018 or 2017, this legislative session, which concluded last week, brought a higher number and proportion of bills all the way through both chambers of the House and to the desk of Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat. Lawmakers introduced a total of 623 bills this year, and 120 of those bills were withdrawn by the sponsors or postponed indefinitely.
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That means 81% of introduced bills made it to the finish line — or at least to Polis’ desk for his consideration. In 2020, just 51% of introduced bills were passed, the uncommonly low percentage a result of mid-session budget cuts triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, 77% of introduced bills were passed, and 60% of introduced bills passed in 2018.
During a post-session news conference Thursday, House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, a Democrat from Pueblo, predicted the session that ended Tuesday night “will be remembered for decades as one of the most ambitious and productive in recent memory.”
Republicans, meanwhile, said the “overreach” of Democrats — who hold the majority in the House and Senate, in addition to the governor’s office — will lead to a reckoning at the ballot box.
“Passing a historic number of bills is nothing to be proud of,” Minority Leader Hugh McKean, a Loveland Republican, said in emailed comments. “While some strides were made in helping to better the lives of Coloradans through less restrictions, most legislation passed this session did the opposite. Just this year, bills created over 8 new offices and 6 enterprises which are being funded through increased taxes and fees at the expense of hard working Coloradans.”
Of the 503 bills passed by the General Assembly in 2021, 213 had been signed into law by Polis as of June 11. Polis has vetoed one bill so far this year, House Bill 21-1092. The bill would have allowed a gubernatorial candidate’s running mate to run for another elected office at the same time.
In 2020, Polis vetoed three bills. One contained measures aimed at preventing substance use, but the governor objected to the measure’s projected costs. House Bill 20-1085 would have mandated that private health insurers provide certain coverage, and health insurance carriers estimated such a mandate would add $22 million to $38 million to premium costs, Polis said at the time.
At the news conference Thursday with Democratic leadership, Polis declined to comment on which of the still-pending bills he would or would not sign from the 2021 session. The governor did voice support for several specific measures he has yet to sign, including a bill to add legal protections for agricultural workers, a transportation funding bill, and legislation creating a prescription drug affordability board.
"Not only did the General Assembly pass a record high number of bills, it also postponed indefinitely (lost, killed) a record low number of bills, at least among (the 2013 to 2021 sessions)," Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, a Douglas County Republican, said in an email.
Fewer bills postponed indefinitely, combined with a large number of bills allocating federal and state economic stimulus money, "combined for a rather average total number of (introduced) bills," Holbert added. "That's important to consider: the General Assembly passed a record number of bills, but it didn't do so by introducing a record number of bills. The bottom line is that both parties were focused on COVID recovery."
Holbert pointed out that none of the economic stimulus bills passed by the Legislature involved deficit spending on the state's part: The state stimulus funding comes from $800 million in higher-than-expected state tax revenue. Many of the bills allocating state and federal stimulus dollars found bipartisan support in the Colorado General Assembly.
Of the bills that started in the House this year and made it through that chamber, none died in the Senate, the Office of Legislative Legal Services data also show.
However, a total of seven bills that began in the Senate died in the House. That reflects a shift from previous years, when bills that only made it through one chamber of the Legislature were more likely to have begun in the House and died in the Senate.
Many of the bills passed by the Senate this year later underwent substantial changes in the House. For example, the House Judiciary Committee added limitations on Senate Bill 21-88, a bill that if signed by Polis would allow survivors of child sexual abuse to sue institutions over long-ago crimes.
House Speaker Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat, said the wealth of House amendments could be due to high numbers of lawyers and people with business experience serving in the House Democratic caucus this session.
"We have a bigger caucus, we have more Democrats (than the Senate), but I think we also have more experiences that I think lend themselves to helping make sure that legislation doesn’t have unintended consequences," Garnett told reporters Wednesday. "It was about allowing our members the freedom to bring their experience into the building and help guide legislation. ... From my leadership style, I want to make sure people feel like they have the opportunity to weigh in in a fair way on this legislation, and I think that’s what you saw."
Meanwhile, House Republicans spent a great deal of time attempting to slow down Democratic bills, with late-night debates and hours-long filibusters nevertheless ending in those bills ultimately passing. GOP members did manage to get some of their own amendments attached to Democratic-led legislation in both chambers of the Legislature.
"While Democrats continue to increase the power and size of government, it is not making lives better for the people of Colorado," McKean argued. "Instead, we are making life more unaffordable after a year that brought loss to many families."
Editor's note: This story was updated at 9:30 a.m. June 14, 2021, to include comments from Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert.
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