Fentanyl, recycling and many more bills await votes on legislature’s final day

For Colorado lawmakers who have endured a string of late nights chained to their desks for vote after vote, days on end of takeout and microwave meals, and the high emotions that come from sleep deprivation and stress — there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Colorado’s constitution requires the legislature to adjourn its regular session no later than midnight tonight, and many lawmakers are looking forward to it.

"It’s hard to do this job and require a lot of sleep. I don’t know how you do it," said Democratic Rep. Edie Hooton Tuesday after pulling a nearly all-nighter Monday.

The lead-up to this final day has come with its share of drama. At the start of the week, House Republicans slowed work in that chamber to a crawl as they pushed to extract concessions on a range of bills. When they eased up on that strategy Tuesday, the chambers did their best to sprint through the remaining items.

"I'm expecting to get more work done, (but) to have a few more hitches in the giddy-up, because there are always surprises," said House Minority Leader Hugh McKean who was involved in his party's slowdown.

Among the bills now headed to the governor are a Democratic-backed election security measure, plans for a new office to address the high rate of violent crime against Indigenous people, and a bill ending anonymous sperm and egg donation, which may be the first of its kind in the country. Lawmakers also approved asking voters to create a universal free lunch program for school children.

However, one intensely debated measure will not reach Gov. Jared Polis' desk: a bipartisan bill to ban flavored nicotine products voted down in committee on Tuesday. The legislation attracted scores of lobbyists and divided some usual political allies. Its failure in the legislature spares Polis, who opposes the policy, from having to decide whether to veto it.

High on legislators’ to-do list will be final passage of a bill to address the state’s wave of fentanyl deaths and addictions. Lawmakers on both sides agree the state needs to take action, but they have argued for more than a month about exactly what the right approach should be. Much of the debate has centered on whether users should face felony charges for possessing the drug, and for how much.

The majority of lawmakers have gotten on board with making possession of one gram or more of fentanyl — or other substances laced with fentanyl — a felony. But the House and Senate differ on the details. 

In the House, Democrats want to require prosecutors to prove the person knew they possessed fentanyl, because so many other street drugs are now being mixed with it. The Senate took that provision out of the bill, and it's now headed to a conference committee as the two sides try to work out that difference. 

Also coming down to the wire is a bill to impose stricter air pollution standards, which many Democrats have backed. But Republicans and business groups rallied against it, and it’s up against a strict deadline to get through. Environmental and business groups are also closely watching a bill that would expand recycling efforts around the state by charging packaging manufacturers a fee on their products.