DENVER — Colorado lawmakers wrapped up the 2021 legislative session Tuesday after passing dozens of final bills.
The session ended a few days earlier than the constitutionally mandated date of June 12. However, many legislators were eager to leave to get to their fields so they can plant crops or get back to work.
The end date is later than most years after the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the start of the legislative session.
In the final few hours of the legislative session, there were jokes and shenanigans, tributes, a musical performance, an annual rubber ball drop and, of course, last minute debates.
Lawmakers briefly considered a motion to override a veto issued by the governor over a bill to redefine the rules around who can run for the state’s lieutenant governor position. It would have been the first time since 2006 a veto override was issued in the state. However, the motion failed in the House.
For the Democratic leadership, the session was productive, and they say they were able to accomplish many of the goals they had set out before the November elections.
“I think this is one of the most historic sessions I have been a part of, one of the most productive,” Speaker of the House Alec Garnett said. “We said that we were going to do all of those things and now on the last day of session I am very proud to say that we are going to do all those things and more.”
Other bills, including one to limit the use of ketamine by first responders, one to build on the police reforms from last year and to end qualified immunity for Colorado State Patrol, a cap to insulin prices, property tax reductions, misdemeanor reforms, alcohol takeout and delivery and more all passed their final readings and are now headed to the governor’s desk.
While many bills passed, a few others did not, including a bill to change the way pre-trial jail detentions are carried out. The bill was one of the most contentious of the session and a previous version was killed after widespread pushback from the law enforcement community.
A second bill to change workplace harassment rules was also killed in committee among others.
“They get pushed to the end of the session because they’re really not ready,” said Rep. Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, the House minority leader. “Usually when we see things that go to the very end, they are the things that are the most controversial anyway.”
Meanwhile, a bill that offered major reforms to the Sex Offender Management Board was gutted. A version was instead passed to only extend the board for another two years.
Instead, Republicans and Democrats agreed to look more closely at reforms to the board over the interim and talk about what modifications can be made. Even with the failed bills, Garnett kept a positive tone, saying not every piece of legislation that’s introduced passes but that their list of accomplishments is longer than their list of shortcomings.
Republicans and Democrats were able to come together, however, to pass bills to allocate state and federal stimulus money to help with the economic recovery.
“Last year history made us. This year we made history. We prioritized COVID relief. We prioritized building back stronger, passing state stimulus,” Garnett said.
Some of the federal stimulus money was put aside for future spending so that the legislature can see how things shape up over the next several months and determine which areas need additional help.
“We are going to be using dollars from the state to help different sectors of the economy, and we don’t want to do it all at once. Right now, we’ve all seen the increase in prices both for gasoline, we see it from milk, we see it for lumber, and if we inject billions of dollars into this economy right now, we’re going to see massive inflation,” McKean said.
McKean also touted bills to help provide relief for small businesses with their tax liability losses in years past, as well as a bill to allow small governments to perform county road maintenance without locates.
However, he was not pleased with the transportation bill and several others that included fee structures and says Colorado families and businesses will suffer, even with the tax reductions that were passed.
Nevertheless, Garnett was excited about the transportation bill and said it will offer big improvements to infrastructure across the state for years to come.
The final bill of the session to be debated was one to address environmental justice for disproportionately impacted communities. During last minute discussions Monday, the Senate passed an amendment to combine the bill with portions of another aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the state.
On the House floor, Republicans argued that they did not have enough time to review the amendment to the bill or the changes to the fiscal note and called for the bill to either be killed or put back into committee to be debated further.
Ultimately, the bill passed.