Coronavirus Extends Hiatus At Colorado Capitol, Surprising Some GOP Lawmakers

Colorado state Capitol building at night
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Colorado state Capitol building at night, Thursday, April 9, 2020.

State lawmakers have extended their adjournment at the Capitol and won’t come back until May 26.

The original plan was to return May 18. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate made the announcement Saturday night, which took some Republicans by surprise because they said they weren’t consulted on the change and don’t approve of extending the adjournment. Some even called the announcement alarming.

In mid-March lawmakers in both parties agreed to halt their work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the idea of returning at a later date to pass critical bills such as a budget. Democrats said by extending the adjournment, it would give the committee charged with crafting a balanced state budget more time to deal with upward of a $3 billion shortfall. 

“With so much at risk and our desired return date fast approaching, we determined that it would benefit all Coloradans if we gave our budgetary and legislative process a bit more breathing room,” said a statement from Democratic Senate President Leroy Garcia. “Though facing our dire fiscal situation has been a painful task, we are committed to protecting our most critical institutions and vulnerable populations as best as we possibly can.”

Colorado will get some budget help from the federal CARES Act money set aside to aid state and local governments hurt by plummeting tax revenues. Nonpartisan legislative staff anticipate $1.68 billion will go to the state government. But these funds cannot be used to back fill the budget shortfall and must be used for direct expenses as a result of COVID-19.

Some lawmakers would like the next federal stimulus to provide flexible funds to help states try to make up for lost revenue.

Democratic House Speaker KC Becker said given the uncertainty over future federal funds and the potential safety concerns lawmakers would face working in close quarters at the state Capitol, it was premature for the legislature to return to work in roughly a week.  

“As businesses across Colorado also begin the process of reopening, this extension allows the General Assembly additional time to double check our safety protocols, continue conversations on appropriate legislation and seek more information about any Congressional action that may be coming in the weeks ahead,” Becker said.  

But some Republicans expressed disappointment that Democratic leaders didn’t include the minority party in the decision or give them a heads up, and believe that delaying the legislature’s return is misguided. 

“Senate Republicans have heard from constituents across the state who have rightly demanded that their voice be heard and that balance be restored in our state government,” said Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert. “We have reassured those constituents that Democrats, who hold majority control of both legislative chambers, planned to return on May 18. Now, with no advance notice, we learn that Democrat leadership has decided to keep the voice of our constituents silenced until May 26.”

Colorado is still under a declared state of emergency, which has given Democratic Gov. Jared Polis the ability to exercise extraordinary powers. Republican Senator Paul Lundeen of Monument said lawmakers need to start weighing in and addressing critical questions facing the state sooner not later.

“Unemployment now exceeds 14 percent,” Lundeen said. “Workers and job creators want to get back to work and demand their representatives have a say in how we safely reopen Colorado. To delay the essential business of the General Assembly magnifies the difficulty of returning safely to normal.”