Some are calling this year’s meeting of the Colorado General Assembly one of the most significant in recent history. This session was unfettered with major policy shifts led by a triumvirate of Boulder-Democrats; every week along the way, a new flavor of controversy took hold.
Huge fights between lawmakers resulted in late nights, lawsuits and logjams. Amidst the incredibly contentious 120-day session, negotiations were hard sought on most major pieces of legislation. Some of the most consequential bills of 2019 could easily have sailed through the process, but with the help of some filibustering by the Senate GOP (we call it “bobbing,” I’ll explain why later) and a lot of active members of the public who came into testify (sometimes waiting until 2am), things slowed from a sprint to a crawl. More time on major bills allowed interest groups to dive into legislation and force legislators to think realistically about the campaign messages they vowed to uphold.
Of course not all ideas were met with compromise and any changes were hard sought. Many lobbyists and legislators were putting in 16-18 hour days for the last month of session and the Senate held one all-nighter. But of the hundreds of pieces of the legislation and the many bills that passed, legislators were willing to make some modest changes.
Take for example the quest for paid family leave. The bill (SB19-188) was knocked down in years when Republicans controlled the Senate. This year, proponents introduced a very ambitious proposal to create a new department responsible for implementing an insurance program to provide paid family leave to every worker in Colorado. SB19-188 was met with almost universal opposition from the business community and after months of meetings, it was eventually negotiated down to a study. The measure’s prime sponsor, Sen. Faith Winter (D-Westminster), amended it repeatedly to appease the business community and ease the concerns of her Democratic colleagues including Governor Jared Polis (D) who in the last few days of session publicly questioned the sustainability of the program.
The story is similar for the local government minimum wage measure, which too was tried when Republicans controlled the Senate in 2015 (HB15-1300) and 2018 (HB18-1368). This year’s attempt (HB19-1210) made it from the House to the Senate with few changes. In the second chamber, in order to make it beyond the finish line, seven amendments were added in the Business, Labor and Technology committee and five amendments were added on the Senate floor. One big change: not all local governments can pass a law to increase the minimum wage, only 10% of them can before the decision is kicked back to the state legislature. The deal was difficult to reach, but some business groups moved their position to neutral. Many still have concerns over the impacts of multiple local wages set, the difficulty of navigating the tax rules in multiple jurisdictions and believe legal remedies in the bill neglect the needs of employees.
Largely, the repeater-model goes for many other bills this session. The legislature or the citizens made an attempt to pass a law and the measures failed. So this year, in response, the 2019 General Assembly aimed to right the wrong. They ultimately made some changes to make their priorities more tolerable.
That was the case for the bill (SB19-181) that changes how oil and gas is regulated in the state -- although there was no going neutral for oil and gas companies who just defeated Proposition 112 at the ballot. Governor Polis, when signing the measure into law in April, declared that this should be the end of the oil and gas wars in Colorado.
That remains to be seen as local governments will soon start updating their regulations on the industry.
Long-term moratoriums or bans on the industry will undoubtedly result in lawsuits. Possible ballot initiatives are also being debated, both from those who want to overturn the new law and from those who feel that the legislation did not go far enough.
Climate change being a top priority for the Democrats meant that SB19-181 was not the only bill on their green-agenda. There were three bills that were sent to the governor which will embark the state on an ambitious plan to address emissions from a variety of sources. The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (CAQCC) will promulgate rules to achieve statewide greenhouse gas pollution reduction goals per HB19-1261. Further, the CAQCC will require greenhouse gas-emitting entities to monitor and publicly report their emissions because of provisions in SB19-096. Further, once the Governor signs the PUC reauthorization bill (SB19-236), Colorado will begin the process of becoming carbon free by 2050.
Beyond energy, mulligans were common. For example, the bill that alters what is taught in sexual education courses in public schools (HB19-1032) has been tried before, and so has a version of the following bills: one that changed the way that electric companies produce energy and invest in infrastructure (HB19-1313 and HB19-1037 which were amended into SB19-236), one that allowed for full day kindergarten (HB19-1262), and one that rewrote the Mobile Home Park Act (HB19-1309).
Most of those bills started in places very different than where they ended, each in their own right. Some were pushed to studies, some had delayed implementation and some were amended drastically; but all could be counted as wins for the Democrats.
A few bills like those that support the availability of affordable housing (HB19-1228), the emergency protection order bill (HB19-1177), and bills that deal with landlord tenant relationships (HB19-1070, HB19-1118, HB19-1328) made it through the process largely unscathed.
One monumental bill that passed this year without significant amendments was by House Speaker KC Becker (D-Boulder) and Sens. Lois Court (D-Denver) and Kevin Priola (R-Brighton). Their effort would allow the state to retain TABOR-limit for the purpose of adding more money into K-12 and higher education line-items and the state’s transportation coffers. Colorado voters will get the opportunity to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to this proposal on the November ballot.
Sponsors of some significant bills that did not pass have already vowed to make a comeback in 2020. Those include the bill regarding school immunization requirements, a repeal of the death penalty, and a number of healthcare-related transparency measures and cost reduction strategies.
With the next eight months available for assembling stakeholder meetings and setting priorities, the hope is that tempers cool and the tone of the coming legislative session is less feverish. Until then, there are other factors outside the capitol that may significantly affect the work happening inside the golden dome. And these attempts, like a lot of bills, Coloradans are no stranger to: the Democratic recall.
The last time the Democrats held the Senate, the House and the Governor’s Office, the Senate President was John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) and the majority was held 20D-15R. President Morse was ousted by his constituents for a vote to expand background checks and extend the waiting period before someone could buy a gun. Along with him went Sen. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo) and in an effort to preserve the majority, Sen. Edie Hudak (D-Arvada) stepped down before the election was held on her recall. From there the majority was by a single vote 18D-17R.
Currently, recall measures are underway for Senate President Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo), Rep. Bri Buentello (D-Pueblo), Sen. Jeff Bridges (D-Greenwood Village), Rep. Meg Froelich (D-Englewood) and Rep. Rochelle Galindo (D-Greeley). Concerns by those leading the recall efforts have been raised over votes taken on the bill to bind Colorado to a treaty effectively eliminating the electoral college, the extreme protection risk order bill and the bill that allows local governments authority to regulate oil and gas operations.
Interim committees will start meeting over the summer to discuss issues related to affordability and accessibility of higher education, tax expenditures, water and transportation. More updates to come as developments and rule-makings occur, but for now - that’s a wrap on the 2019 legislative session.
Okay, you have been dying to know and you made it to the end - congrats. Now we can share what "bobbing" is...
Outside the capitol, commonly associated with a game involving apples, bobbing is a term used to describe the motion of ones head. Inside the capitol, bobbing is a term used to describe pontificating at length, at the well, at the peak of heated debate. Most skillfully employed by namesake - Senator Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs).