Time running out for ambitious Colorado Democrats' agenda

Posted at 10:33 AM, May 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-01 12:33:18-04

DENVER (AP) — 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 health care 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. And late Tuesday, the House approved Senate amendments to a bill to fund full-day kindergarten for all Colorado families who want it for their children — a top Polis priority. The bill, which also frees up 5,000 preschool slots for children, now goes to the governor for his signature.

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.


This story has been corrected to update taxpayer ballot question has passed.