Spring came early this year! It may not feel like spring because of the whole coronavirus outbreak and all of the snow, but yesterday was actually the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere. On the equinox, the length of day and night is nearly equal. The first day of spring is usually March 21 or 20 and it happening on March 19 this year represents the earliest spring start in over a century. The reason why has everything to do with leap days, but not the one we just had in February, this is actually a reverberation from a special leap day way back in 2000. I would say that you can dazzle your friends with that fact at parties, but in these times I guess you can just use it on conference calls.
Now to the actual news. The General Assembly remains temporarily adjourned, the Capitol is now closed indefinitely, and it is becoming increasingly likely that it will be a longer period of time before we return to the work of the legislature. The General Assembly is supposed to resume on March 30, but legislative leaders are now discussing the possibility of just gaveling in and gaveling back out for a longer break. However, all members would likely need to come in for that and further complicating any plans of resuming the legislature is the news that at least on legislator has now officially tested positive for COVID-19.
Looming large over the decision on when and how to resume the legislative session is the guidance from the Colorado Supreme Court on whether the General Assembly will be able to work past May 6 or not. The court is accepting briefs through March 24 and will hopefully render a decision soon after. If the court says that "calendar days" means consecutive days only, even in a time of declared emergency, then is likely that a special session will have to be called during the summer or fall.
Despite all of this uncertainty right now, legislators are pushing forward with their ideas for needed legislation. One of the new priorities is an acceleration of a pay increase for Colorado National Guard members who are called into action in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Legislators are also talking about measures to prohibit price gouging during a public health crisis. Additionally, there is more momentum building for legislation to address paid family medical leave this session. Finally, economic stimulus legislation is likely but state leaders are waiting to see what comes from the federal government.
The state budget is also a must-pass piece of legislation for this session. The Joint Budget Committee (JBC) had planned to return to work next week to resume working on the budget in light of the recent economic news from March forecast, but this is what the JBC schedule now shows:
Governor Polis on Friday announced a series of actions the state is taking. While regulatory obligations continue, the state is providing waivers from unnecessary regulation. One example, restaurants providing deliveries are now permitted to also make delivery sales of alcohol. Connect for Colorado has extended the date to sign up for health insurance coverage. There will now be no elective medical and veterinary surgeries. The state is also asking banks to not begin any foreclosures, landlords to not begin any evictions, and utilities to not shut off any service. Finally, the state also extended the deadline for taxes.
Additionally, Governor Polis announced the creation of an emergency council of economic advisers to be chaired by Frederico Pena. They will look at all of the policy tools and resources the state has to minimize economic damage that this public health crisis is causing. They will focus specifically on how to help workers and businesses. Furthermore, this council will be expanding to cover every economic sector of the state through different subcommittees.
Many people have been wondering about "shelter in place" and "safer at homes" orders that many other cities and states have begun undertaking. At this time, there is no order like that for Metro Denver or Colorado, although, that may change in the future. Denver Mayor Michael Handcock has said that he would prefer the state or metro region choose to take that step together, as opposed to the city of Denver making that order alone. Places like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the entire state of California, have started to take these actions to limit the spread of the virus. New York has also ordered that all workers in non-essential businesses stay home. Here in Colorado, the small county of San Miguel, where Telluride is located, has issued a shelter in place order. Stay tuned for more news on this front and be prepared.
As of right now (March 20), there are 277 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Colorado and there have now been four deaths related to the virus. Stay safe keep informed on all of the latest news from the state through this new state website: https://covid19.colorado.gov/.
Finally, to end on an upbeat note, a relief fund has already raised over $2.8 million in just two days. These funds will supplement the governmental response and will help pay for things like medical supplies, cleaning supplies, food services, child care for emergency workers, behavioral health support, and much more. Visit www.HelpColoradoNow.org to make a donation.
Until next week...