The Colorado State Legislature usually has 120 days to meet starting in January, but like many other things this year, that calendar took a different turn when the legislature recessed last month due to concerns about spreading the coronavirus in the capitol.
Back in our January issue, we talked with two of North Denver’s legislators, Sen. Julie Gonzales and Rep. Serena Gonzales-Guiterrez, about what to expect this session. This month, we talked with Rep. Alex Valdez, who represents parts of North and Central Denver, including Chaffee Park, Jefferson Park, and Eastern Sunnyside about the abrupt halt to session and what’s next.
“We were well on our way as a legislature to making big strides on the agenda we were sent to fulfill,” Valdez said of the session. “Priorities are going to have to change.”
The biggest change in priority according to Valdez? Bills that have a fiscal note attached, meaning the legislature would have to find funds to pay for them. When the legislature returns, Valdez said some of those bills may be shelved until next session to focus on recovery efforts and passing the budget in what is likely to be a harder financial situation. For other bills that require funding, Valdez said bill sponsors will be “Going back to the drawing board” to try find more creative ways to secure funding.
Valdez said Coloradans can expect a package of bills that seek to address the financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis, but details were not available yet. He also praised Governor Polis’ efforts and said he hopes the legislature can put more protections in place in the event Colorado faces another catastrophic event in the future. Valdez said Colorado doesn’t currently have laws against price gouging, something he hopes for the legislature to address.
While recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and precautions for future events will be the priority, Valdez said he hopes some other important legislation isn’t forgotten. Valdez is one of the sponsors of legislation to make HIV prevention medication more available, another bill seeking to address toxic air pollution, especially in Denver and Adams county, as well as several other bills.
Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, who represents House District 4, said she hated the thought of bills being shelved. Understanding some may, she has been talking to stakeholders about her bills that may get put aside for the year due to costs, such as a proposal to let 16 year olds vote in school board elections. Another bill that would have strengthened some renter protections including capping late fees on rent, died in committee earlier this year but may come back when session resumes in a different form. “That could be helpful in our current situation,” Gonzales-Gutierrez said.
Legislators’ hope of their unpassed bills having a second chance was renewed when the Colorado Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that the legislature could stop the clock on their 120 day session, letting them go past their normal stop date in early May and continue meeting, though a budget has to be passed before July.