COLORADO LEGISLATIVE SERVICES, LLC
As the legislators are getting close to the final push and divides are encroaching inside and outside each of the caucuses. Two priority bills for the Democrats have been temporarily shelved, but with dozens more on the horizon Senate Republicans are employing an historically rare rule to continue to slow things down in protest.
Sen. Faith Winter’s (D-Westminster) top-priority bill to create a state-managed family leave program impacting every business and employee in the state was heard without a vote on Tuesday after around ten hours of testimony in the Senate Finance Committee because of concerns by the majority on the $1 billion dollar fund the bill would create. While it is likely that some form of the plan will pass, “the devil is always in the details” as Sen. Pete Lee said at the hearing.
Jenifer Waller-Dean, Chief Operating Officer of the Colorado Bankers Association, testified in opposition alongside a group of other business leaders in the state citing that 88% of employees have some from of family leave, that this mandate will slow hiring at smaller companies and that even at a billion dollars the plan could be insolvent. The Colorado Chamber of Commerce noted that many other states that have implemented similar programs, including New Jersey and California, have been arguably unsuccessfully. Each has had to raise payroll taxes or borrow money from other parts of state government in order to keep the programs solvent when claims were far higher than expected.
Another measure, one to repeal Colorado’s death penalty, is in a more difficult spot. Lobbyists like those with the American Civil Liberties Union have until April 1 to secure the votes they need to pass this bipartisan bill. One Democrat, Sen. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora) whose son was murdered prior to her service in the legislature has been vocal in her opposition while one Republican, a devout Catholic, Sen. Kevin Priola (R-Brighton) is one of the sponsors and adamantly supports the bill.
The state budget, the “long bill,” takes up about a week of work-time in both chambers, putting pressure on leaders to keep things moving for now. Dozens of high priority bills have still yet to get to the desk Gov. Jared Polis (D), like the red flag or extreme risk protection bill, the equal pay bill, the bill to fund full day kindergarten, the omnibus oil and gas bill, the bill to ask the voters whether to redirect refunds from the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, yet-to-be-introduced pharmaceutical transparency bill and the bill that changes sex education policy in the state.
Republicans in the Senate are upset with the speed that bills are moving however, and have been making every effort to slow things down in the Senate in protest. Sen. Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs) is leading the charge to have bills read at length. This is the center of the controversy that caused such an emotional last week. Refresher - the senate Republicans successful sued the Senate President Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo) for violating the constitution when he brought in computers to speed-read a 2000-page bill at length.
For the weeks to come, the the threat of working weekends seems inevitable as debates that go late into the night and hearings that end early in the morning have become the norm as Democratic legislators maneuver to get their bills across the finish line.