Supreme Court: 120 days of legislative session don't have to be consecutive during public health emergency

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Posted at 6:34 PM, Apr 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-01 20:34:29-04

DENVER — The Colorado legislature can pause and pick up where it left off when it was adjourned on March 14 due to coronavirus concerns, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

Under Colorado state law, the legislative session is limited to 120 days unless the governor calls a special session. But in a 4-3 decision, the state's high court agreed that the days do not have to be counted consecutively during a state of an emergency, meaning the clock on the legislative session has essentially been paused.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser submitted a brief to the state supreme court last Tuesday, contending that the limit should be paused during the COVID-19 shutdown, as most legislative Democrats had also argued. The session was previously scheduled to come to a close on May 6.

The court found that the rules governing the 120-day limit are ambiguous when it comes to whether the days must be counted consecutively. However, the public health emergency disaster, which Gov. Polis declared at the beginning of the epidemic, exempts the consecutive-nature of the rule, whether implied or not, the majority ruled.

With this ruling, the General Assembly will be able to count only “working calendar days” toward the 120-day limit, in the context of this public health disaster emergency.

House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder, released the following statement in response to the court’s ruling:

“I’m happy to see the court affirm our position today. From the beginning, our priority has been to protect the health and safety of all who work, visit, and frequent the Capitol. This is an unprecedented time that calls for thoughtful action. We will continue looking at the data and talking to public health experts to determine when it is safe to come back to the Capitol. Once we do return, we’ll need everyone at the table to solve our most difficult challenges.”

“We are thrilled with the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Joint Rule 44 of the General Assembly,” said Senate President Leroy M. Garcia, D-Pueblo. “While public health experts are advising citizens to stay home, we must continue to protect all those who do business at the Capitol by temporarily suspending the session. However, counting legislative days consecutively during this state of emergency would have been devastating for Colorado. As leaders, we were elected to serve the community, especially during times of hardship. With this decision, we will not be robbed of that opportunity, but rather be allowed to honor public safety measures while still preserving the breadth of our civic duties. The legislature’s critical work on behalf of Coloradans will continue as it is deemed safe. When that happens we will have a lot to do, but we’re ready to rise to the challenge.”