With little sleep and lots of lawmaking, Colorado’s legislature is grinding into the home stretch

· May 6, 2023, 3:44 pm
Republican Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen speaks against proposed gun control measures, in the Senate, March 10, 2023. The Democrat-controlled Senate was opening debate on a collection of measures they said were aimed at curbing gun violence.

Lots of caffeine and plenty of food and snacks are just some of the key essentials lawmakers are relying on to get through this final weekend of work before they’re required to adjourn at midnight on Monday. 

“Is that food? Oh my God, bless your heart,” said Democratic House Majority Leader Monica Duran to a staffer who arrived at her office with a hamburger Friday night, after a long day of floor work.  

Both the House and Senate are working through the weekend as they finalize bills. The extra time is crucial as the fates of some of the biggest policies of the session are still undecided, such as the governor’s land use bill and a proposal to reduce property taxes

Duran’s job is to manage the House floor, and she said she’s determined to make sure the legislature gets everything done. 

However, how many hours it will take to accomplish that is still an open question. Duran said she’s personally okay with working nonstop until the deadline —  Democrats take shifts during floor debates and she has a couch in her office for short naps — but, she said health and safety do have to come first. 

On Friday the House adjourned before 9 p.m., coming back to work Saturday at 9 a.m.

“I have a goal and a vision in mind, but I also understand that we have to be adaptable, especially these last few days.”

Democratic state Sen. Tom Sullivan, in the Senate, March 10, 2023. The Democrat-controlled Senate was opening debate on a collection of measures they said were aimed at curbing gun violence.
Republican state Sen. Rod Pelton, at his desk in the Senate, March 10, 2023. The Democrat-controlled Senate was opening debate on a collection of measures they said were aimed at curbing gun violence.

The swift pace of work, especially on some of the most controversial pieces of policy, has raised objections from Republicans, who have been doing their best to slow things down with long debates and bill reading requests.

“Colorado has witnessed a ten-ton elephant being crammed through a keyhole by the Governor and overzealous Democrats,” said House Republican leaders in a statement after the passage of Senate Bill 213, the land use bill, during which Democratic leaders limited debate to four hours. “The only correct description for what we’ve seen the last two days on the House floor is chaos.”

The four-month-long legislative session began in January, but for a lot of measures whether they pass or fail comes down to the final days. This can be for a variety of reasons: it may have been introduced late, or be complex and contentious, requiring a lot of negotiation through the process, or comes with a price tag and so had to wait for passage until after the budget was finalized

As the hours tick down to the end of session — known poetically by the Latin phrase ‘Sine Die’ or ‘without day’ — tensions can rise.

“It's like we have such little time that I just worry, I worry that things that are important to us that we've been working on for so long are just being held up to die on the calendar,” said Democratic Rep. Lorena Garcia from Adams County.

Democratic state Reps. Shannon Bird, left, and Dafna Michaelson Jenet in the House Chamber, March 6, 2023.
Democratic state Rep. Jennifer Bacon on the House floor, March 6, 2023.

Garcia is in her first year at the Capitol after being appointed to her seat in January, and said she’s particularly concerned about a bill she has to study the cost of enforcing Colorado’s drug laws. Another top priority is a bill that would require landlords to show just cause before they evict a tenant in many circumstances, or pay a portion of their relocation costs.

Like Duran, Garcia is relying on lots of caffeine and coffee to stay alert. She said it’s been a tough but eye-opening experience to be in the thick of things at the Capitol as lawmakers head into the home stretch.  

“I think it's just at a point where we are all operating with extreme exhaustion and emotions are high and so things are just harder. But I wouldn't trade my experience for anything,” she said.

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