DENVER — At the Colorado State Capitol Monday, it was a story about pacing, perspectives, partisanship and priorities. As the session entered its 116th day, some 220 bills were still up for debate in the House and Senate.
Democrats were working fast to try to get things done while Republicans were hoping to slow things down, debating bills on the Senate floor for hours.
For both Democrats and Republicans, the end of the session comes down to pacing. A rare Saturday session was called last weekend to try to help push some of the pending legislation through.
“For the most part, we’re moving everything through in a way that we can get to pretty much the end of the week having accomplished what’s on our calendar,” House majority leader Alec Garnett said.
However, both Rep. Garnett and Speaker of the House KC Becker say there’s still a lot to get done. There were 125 fewer bills introduced this legislative session than last year but the backlog is longer.
“I think that they have taken more time through the process because you have two when you know that things have a better chance of passing if you take more time with them and be more deliberate,” Rep. Becker said.
For Republicans, though, pacing means slowing things down and extending out debates for hours so that fewer bills are rushed through the legislature.
“That’s the whole point of the legislative process is to recognize that things should be slow, we should be deliberate, and we should make sure that everything that we do has a benefit to all of Colorado citizens,” said Senator Owen Hill.
Senator Hill, who tried to stall earlier in the session by calling for the reading of a 2,000-page bill in its entirety, said rushing through bills in the eleventh hour can have consequences in the long run.
“From the Democrats right now I’m hearing this mindset that just says, ‘Pass a bill and we’ll figure out after-the-fact whether or not it works,’ forgetting that they are harming our local businesses, making it harder to compete with online retailers, damaging main street and families’ ability to pay their bills. To me that’s not something you do lightly,” Sen. Hill said.
How well this legislative session is going depends on who you ask. For Reps. Becker and Garnett, this has been a successful session where a lot of progress has been made on key issues like oil and gas reform.
“Even if the session were to end today, we’ve gotten a lot done for the people of Colorado,” Rep. Becker said.
From Rep. Garnett’s perspective, Democrats have delivered on the campaign promises they made and are sticking to their word.
From Rep. Becker’s perspective, this is just the beginning.
“This is in the end, this is one session in a two-year term and we have all learned a lot about these particular subjects,” she said. “We’ve all learned about how Republicans are going to act in a trifecta.”
From Republicans’ perspective though, this session has been disorganized and disastrous.
“This is the worst session they’ve ever seen,” Sen. Hill said.
He believes some good has come from the bills that were passed, including a state budget and funding for schools. However, from Sen. Hill’s view, the voices of the minority are being ignored.
“Democrats control everything, Democrat governor, Democrats Speaker of the House, Democrats President of the Senate, so they’re really in charge. It’s up to them to set the tone and they’ve set the tone, ‘Our way or the highway,’ and we said, ‘Hold up, no, our constituents have a voice too,’” he said.
The difference in perspectives highlights the partisanship happening within the walls of the Colorado state Capitol.
Democrats say they’re doing their best to reach across the aisle on some of the most important issues.
“We have done our best to include everybody and then the chamber on some of these bills,” Rep. Garnett said.
He portrayed a friendly picture of how Republicans and Democrats are interacting with one another this legislative session.
“In the end after we debate policy at length, we can always shake hands afterward,” Rep. Garnett said.
However, for Sen. Hill, things are as divisive as ever in the legislature.
“Every single person that’s part of the process has said this has been the most partisan, most miserable session they’ve ever seen,” he said.
Sen. Hill says, more than anything, he is fighting for a voice, even if he’s on the losing side of arguments in a Democrat-controlled Capitol.
“As someone in the minority, we want to make sure that our constituents voices are heard. The session is only successful if you hear from all sides of the issue,” he said.
With only a few days left in the session, both Reps. Becker and Garnett admit it’s not possible to get everything that’s left done. That’s why they will be prioritizing bills to keep the government running over the final week.
Rep. Garnett insisted that the amount of bills that likely will be punted this session is not out of the ordinary and not necessarily a bad thing.
“At the end of every session, there are a lot of bills that are in play, and there’s a lot of work that has to get done,” Rep. Garnett said.
However, Sen. Hill questions whether Democrats have been pushing legislation through for the sake of progress rather than for the betterment of Colorado.
“Right now, there have been no priorities, it’s just a change, massive change, significant regulation,” Sen. Hill said.
For now, his priority is to slow the bills down or stop them until the next session, when there’s more time to debate them.
The legislative session wraps up on Friday.