Many Controversial Bills May Not Make Deadline. They’re Tangling Up Other Measures In The Process

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
A monument to the Civil War, that includes a reference to the Sand Creek Massacre, in front of the State Capitol building, July 23, 2018.
Photo: Colorado Capitol Building 2018 | West Front - KBeaty - DO NOT REUSE
A monument to the Civil War, that includes a reference to the Sand Creek Massacre, in front of the State Capitol building, July 23, 2018.

Some of the most controversial bills at the state legislature this year — on topics like childhood vaccinations, comprehensive sex education and tobacco and vaping taxes — may not make it over the finish line in the final days.

And they may take a number of bipartisan measures down with them.

“There are some sunset bills that are out there that are about keeping government open and functioning properly. And so, those are really important that we get through the process,” Democratic Speaker of the House KC Becker said.

She’s sponsoring a bill to keep Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission operating. The three-member body regulates everything from electric utilities to taxi companies. Becker’s bill is in its second chamber, which should mean that it’s close to the end of the process. But if the House version doesn’t match what the Senate passed, it will have to go back to senators for agreement.

With just days left in session and scores of bills competing for lawmakers’ attention, Becker is worried that additional step could prove fatal.

The bipartisan bills still working their way through the process run the gamut of issues. A bail bond reform measure that started in the House still needs to clear the Senate, and so does a House bill to expand the amount of affordable housing across Colorado. A rural development grant program needs to pass both the Senate and House.

Because the session ends Friday at midnight, and it takes two days for a bill to clear a chamber, it makes time especially precious.

On Monday, senators worked through midnight, all the way to 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, and then broke for just a few hours before returning to their desks. Democrats used procedural rules to force votes more quickly, while Republicans tried to lengthen debates. Both sides are pointing fingers at each other for all the bills still left on the calendar.

“Any bills that die on the calendar are the result of poor calendar management by the Democrats,” Republican Senate spokesman Sage Naumann said. “If bipartisan pieces of legislation are unfortunately postponed to the next session in an effort to stop bills that violate the rights of our constituents and put their livelihoods at risk, then that’s a price we’re willing to pay.”

The latest figures from non-partisan Office of Legislative Legal Services show that as of Monday, 220 bills were still pending, with 123 bills in the House and 97 in the Senate. Overall, fewer bills were introduced this year compared to last session.