Colorado Democrats have just days left to work on their ambitious agenda

3 min. read
District 18 Sen. Stephen Fenberg at his desk, March 20, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

By James Anderson, Associated Press

Colorado's minority Republican lawmakers are using everything at their disposal to slow down the rushed consideration of dozens of Democratic bills the final week of the legislative session -- and there were more signs Tuesday the tactics were working.

Following an overnight Senate session, the Democratic majority leader, Steve Fenberg, effectively killed a bill granting local governments a say in rent control by postponing it so the chamber could tackle more ambitious legislation.

It was among the first of several items expected to die before the session ends at midnight Friday.

Majority Democrats acknowledge there's too much to do and too little time. In the House, Democratic Rep. Dominique Jackson said Tuesday she'd pulled a complex prescription drug transparency bill out of consideration in part because of the logjam.

That bill was one of several high-profile initiatives, backed by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, to curb health care costs and expand health insurance coverage.

Still pending is a reinsurance bill, designed to reduce premiums by creating a state fund to cover high-risk individual consumers, as lawmakers try to find a way to fund it.

"There will be some bills that simply die on the calendar," said Democratic Sen. Jeff Bridges. "We just don't have time."
Among the pending Democratic initiatives:

  • A proposal to ask voters to raise taxes on nicotine products for education and transportation funding.
  • A bill to marginally tighten child vaccination requirements.
  • A proposal to ask voters to legalize limited sports gambling.
  • A bill to codify greenhouse gas emissions goals.
  • A bill to seek federal permission to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.

Both chambers have passed a bill to ask voters to permanently allow the state to keep excess tax revenues that current law mandates must be refunded to taxpayers.

Colorado's top House Democrats, Speaker KC Becker and Majority Leader Alec Garnett, saw through successful bills to add Colorado to the National Popular Vote movement in presidential elections, overhaul oil and gas regulations to emphasize citizens' safety over production and institute a "red flag" law designed to seize firearms from people deemed a threat.

"The GOP has done a good job of slowing things down," Becker said. "Even if the session were to end today, we've gotten a lot done for the people of Colorado."

That GOP effort has been especially pronounced in the Senate, where a succession of Republicans have spoken at length in recent days on legislation and numerous amendments.

"To the bill!" is a frequent remonstration of wayward GOP speakers delivered by the Democratic Senate chair.

"We've done what we were elected on," said Garnett, referring largely to health care legislation enacted after Democrats seized every statewide office and legislative control in a lopsided November election.

The proposed nicotine tax ballot question, designed partly to curb teenage vaping, advanced in the House Tuesday -- but only after Republican Rep. Dave Williams asked that the entire bill be read. It's a tactic used more than once by Republicans to stall bill consideration. It was read audibly by a computer.

"This is a major piece of legislation that was dropped at the 11th hour," Williams said. "This is not ready for prime time." He said Democrats were rushing the legislation, which was only announced April 24 by Polis.

That bill was one of several big ticket items pending Tuesday. Still to come was consideration of Senate amendments to a House bill that would fund full-day kindergarten, a top Polis priority.

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