Colorado Legislature Could Extend Its Break By Weeks, But There’s Disagreement Over Whether They Have To Make That Decision In Person

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Senate President Leroy Garcia speaks at the podium on the first day of the 2020 legislative session at the Colorado State Capitol. Jan. 8, 2020.

State lawmakers are expected to extend the legislature’s break due to the COVID-19 pandemic for another two weeks, until Monday April 13. Lawmakers took the unprecedented step of temporarily suspending the legislature until March 30, even as major bills remain in limbo. 

In a bipartisan effort, legislative leaders and staff circulated a letter to 100 lawmakers over the weekend asking for signatures to extend the legislative adjournment for another two weeks until April 13.

A House Republican said that caucus supported the idea when minority leader Patrick Neville brought up the letter in a caucus call on Friday.

“I am happy that legislators are using common sense by setting the start date back to April 13 but I doubt, given the information we are hearing on a daily basis, that the 13th will be sufficient,” said Republican Rep. Lois Landgraf of Fountain, who signed the letter. "We will certainly know more by then."

But some members of both parties were not sure whether the legislature could adjourn via a letter instead of taking a voice vote. Democratic Rep. Sonya Jaquez Lewis of Longmont said that’s why she hasn’t made up her mind yet on whether to sign the letter.

“If the Speaker of the House calls us in, I will go in,” she said. “The executive director of [the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment] has ruled that Legislators are essential personnel so if we are asked to do our job in person then I need to do my job in person.

"I'm a pharmacist, I believe there is a way that we could go in safely, to not put others at risk and protect our own health. When I worked at the hospital, if I got the call to go in, I would go in. Same thing here, It's my job.”

It’s not clear whether a quorum of lawmakers would be required to formally submit the letter on Monday, although some lawmakers are planning to come to the Capitol at 10 a.m. regardless. 

The letter makes the case that it’s not safe for the Capitol to be open for businesses as usual.

“As members of the General Assembly of the State of Colorado, we recognize and honor our duty and obligation to transact the legislative business of the State in a timely and orderly fashion, but we also recognize the critical importance of protecting the health and safety of the members and staff of this body and all other persons who work at the Capitol or who seek to observe and participate in their government, by respecting and adhering to the recommendations of public health officials,” the letter said.

“In light of the extraordinary circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic in Colorado, we, the undersigned members of the Colorado General Assembly authorize a second temporary adjournment of the House of Representatives and the Senate, when each adjourns on March 30, 2020, until 10 a.m. on April 13, 2020.”

Whenever lawmakers do come back to the Capitol it’s not clear how long they’ll have to finish their work. The session's end date is May 6. The General Assembly has submitted arguments to the State Supreme Court to ask whether that date could be extended because Colorado is in a declared state of emergency.