Almost A Year Into The Pandemic, Polis Will Tell The State Where He Hopes To Go From Here

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Colorado Gov, Jared Polis makes a point about the state’s efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus at a news conference Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Gov. Jared Polis will deliver his annual State of the State address on Wednesday, Feb. 17 at the Colorado Capitol. It's a significant moment for the governor to put his mark on the beginning of the annual legislative session, as well as reflect back on a year unlike any in living history.

Colorado Public Radio will broadcast the address live at 11 a.m.

Polis is expected to outline his policy priorities and goals for the upcoming months, touching on everything from pandemic stimulus spending to education and transportation reforms and economic recovery. The governor, who previously spent a decade in Congress, has taken a keen interest in the legislative process during his first term in office and often works closely with lawmakers on each session’s biggest proposals.

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While Democrats hold a majority in both the House and Senate, that does not mean everything Polis may advocate for in the speech will automatically sail through the legislature. The majority party still has competing priorities and a limited budget to work with.

Polis also prefers to get Republicans on board with major policies — an early effort to pass free full-day kindergarten may be his biggest bipartisan victory to date — but that could be harder this year. The pandemic and the deeply divided national political mood may make cooperation across the aisle more difficult.

Like governors across the country, Polis has exercised extraordinary executive powers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Operating under a declared state of emergency, he has issued edicts touching nearly every aspect of how the state and economy operate. That approach has rankled Republicans, who warn his unchecked use of executive power undercuts the legislative branch. Polis may use part of his speech to explain his thinking and justify his approach as Colorado begins to loosen restrictions and vaccinate more residents.  

Polis’ office is already in negotiations with lawmakers on how to pull together another state-funded economic stimulus package. State lawmakers dedicated more than $300 million to that purpose during a special legislative session in December.

The state of the state address usually lasts less than an hour, and provides a last big burst of pomp and ceremony before the real work of the legislative session gets underway. 

All of the general assembly’s 100 lawmakers typically watch the address in person on the floor of the House chamber, which has more space than the Senate. It’s usually a boisterous, crowded event.

It’s not clear how many lawmakers will choose to watch remotely this year due to the pandemic. The desks in each chamber are now separated by plexiglass as a safety precaution and masks are recommended for legislators, with most choosing to wear them. Gov. Polis’ cabinet and the Colorado Supreme Court are also invited to attend in person, along with statewide elected officials.

Members of the public can normally watch Polis’ speech in the gallery viewing area above the House chamber. Because of COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing requirements, legislative staff say they have set up additional viewing areas inside the capitol building.