DENVER — The Colorado legislature convened for day two of a special session Tuesday to address the COVID-19 pandemic and offer some relief to businesses and families.
Of the roughly 35 bills that were introduced Monday, only about a dozen made it to the second day of the session including eight priority bills for Democrats.
Those priority bills have bipartisan support and include small business relief, housing and rental assistance, broadband access, utility assistance, public health assistance, sales tax relief, child care support and food pantry assistance.
“For the most part, everything has been sort of moving forward as planned. A few changes here and there, but we reached across the aisle early,” said Rep. Alec Garnett.
Democrats told Denver7 they are happy with how the session is turning out and the work that is being done with the roughly $300 million available for COVID-19 relief.
Republicans, on the other hand, have started to criticize how things are being handled.
All of the Republican-led bills have been killed in the special session, including some to reign in the executive powers of the governor or allow counties to disregard state health requirements.
“I am really fighting hard, with little success mind you, but fighting hard to improve the public process around all the public health orders,” said Sen. Bob Gardner.
Sen. Gardner said he returned to the capitol to try to provide aide to small businesses and families as much as he could, but he believes the session was over before it even started.
“Absolutely, it was decided before it started. The governor and his party orchestrated the set of bills that were going to pass. They decided what money they had to spend and how it was going to be spent,” Sen. Gardner said.
Outgoing house minority leader Rep. Patrick Neville has also been disappointed in how the special session has been handled.
“It’s day two of what I’m calling the publicity stunt because that’s really all this is at this point,” Rep. Neville said. “It almost seems like this is a way that they can say, ‘Oh we shut down the entire state with our businesses, schools are closing but oh we’re going to try to do something.’”
House majority leader Rep. Alec Garnett, however, disagreed and said he has reached across the aisle for the priority bills in particular.
“I want to work in the most bipartisan way possible, but I can’t read your mind you got to pick up the phone you’ve got to give me a call. You’ve got to tell me this is a priority. You can’t just hope that you’re not going to include the majority party and somehow these bills are going to pass,” Rep. Garnett said.
Despite many having failed, Rep. Garnett said several of the bills that had been introduced show promise, such as one that would have allowed workers who receive tips to not be taxed on that income for a time.
However, the bill came with a $22-$30 million fiscal note during a special session with limited resources. Other bills simply fell outside of the parameters of what the special session called for.
Several of those failed bills will likely be reintroduced when the regular session resumes.
“The ones that have not move forward have not move forward for rightful reasons. They were not ready,” said Senate President Leroy Garcia. “I had conversations with several members who understood that their bill was not ready but they’re setting the foundation for bills that will come in January.”
Sen. Gardner and most of his Republican colleagues reluctantly voted yes on all of the Democrat-priority bills because he wanted to offer some relief during the pandemic, even if he doesn’t agree with how things are being handled.
During the discussions Tuesday, Sen. Gardner also raised a number of concerns with Senate Bill 20-001 in particular, which offers aide to small businesses.
In particular, Sen. Gardner raised concerns about part of the bill that allocated $1.8 million to the department of revenue to offset the waiver of certain liquor license fees and a portion regarding who can apply for relief.
“It’s nothing short of a vindictive provision in Senate Bill 1 that said if you live in a county that didn’t comply with a public health order then you’re not eligible for the program,” he said.
Rep. Neville, meanwhile, is questioning how much help these bills can really provide, singling out the sales tax relief bill for businesses in particular.
“We’ve done little bills like allowing them to keep the 2.9 percent of the sales tax, but I’ve got to tell you the 2.9 percent of zero is still zero, and that’s what a lot of these businesses are facing,” Rep. Neville said, referencing businesses that have had to close their doors temporarily during the pandemic.
He believes the general assembly would have been more helpful if it would have passed legislation to allow businesses to operate in a way they see as safe and responsible rather than allowing the state to decide through a series of executive orders.
“The problem with taking away any of those powers is the legislative branch moves much more slowly than the executive branch and this pandemic moves very quickly,” Rep. Garnett countered.
Despite the disagreements, Democrats and Republicans say they hope this money will offer some relief for families and businesses temporarily.
“By no means will this legislation fix everything. We’re up against some difficult months ahead of us especially as this pandemic."