DENVER — In back-to-back-to-back press conferences Thursday, it was a tale of two different takes on the 2022 legislative session.
For Democrats, it was a session to celebrate after lawmakers codified abortion rights into law, cut fees and made large investments in behavioral health. Republicans, meanwhile, painted a very different picture of the session, saying not enough progress was made in enough areas to truly help with affordability or to cut down on crime.
Going into the session, both political parties made it a priority to cut down on costs in order to help families and businesses recover from the pandemic and deal with inflation. Democrats boasted about the more than 50 ways they worked to cut down on fees.
“Rather than 50 ways to save your money, there are hundreds and hundreds of ways to save people money,” said Governor Jared Polis (D).
Some of those savings included property tax relief, getting rid of state sales taxes on feminine hygiene products and diapers, delaying a gas fee, reducing costs for drivers and more. Democrats also estimate that the universal Pre-K law will save families with young children $4,300 a year.
Republicans, however, painted a very different picture, saying that the savings don't go far enough and that some were disingenuous since the savings rely on TABOR refunds taxpayers were going to receive anyway.
“Democrats killed over a dozen bills that would have alleviated this affordability crisis,” said Sen. Bob Gardner, R - El Paso. “Don’t be mistaken, the fees they suspended were just replaced with other fees.”
In a Thursday morning press conference, Senate Republicans went through a list of bills that were part of their "Commitment to Colorado" plan, saying of the 44 bills they introduced, only five passed.
In a separate press conference an hour later, House Republicans acknowledged that some important work was done, but insisted it didn’t go far enough. In particular, they pointed out the funding that the legislature dedicated to schools and the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund, saying a historic budget should have been able to fully fund both but that the legislature stopped short.
“You also saw an effort to repay the unemployment trust funds $600 million. That was great, it's an important step forward, it should have been $1.2 billion,” said Rep. Colin Larson, R - Jefferson. “If we were, in fact, talking about real fiscal responsibility, really såving people money and saving small businesses money, we would have put enough money in there to pay back or to avoid the surcharge in and of itself and to get us back to solvency.”
House Republicans also contended that the savings the Democrats offered for businesses and families were minimal, while other fees were added in their place.
On crime, meanwhile, Democrats spoke about some of the legislation they passed surrounding behavioral health, addiction treatment and safer street grant programs.
“Including investments in more and better policing, including investments in co-response models to free up law enforcement officials to fight crime, including investments in the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to investigate serious and inner jurisdictional crime,” Polis said.
Republicans, however, lamented over some of their crime prevention ideas that were rejected. Rep. Hugh McKean, R - Larimer, spoke at length about the Denver area’s crime rates, saying people don’t feel safe visiting.
A bill aimed at addressing the fentanyl deaths in the state also fell under the crime prevention purview. The bill was argued up until the last moments of session when an 11th hour deal cleared both chambers to make it to the governor’s desk.
During the Democrat's press conference, Polis agreed that more can be done, but said the bill is a big step forward in cracking down on both dealing and possession. He also highlighted the detection and treatment tools included in the bill.
At the last moment before the session ended, Rep. Mike Lynch, R - Larimer, asked for his name to be pulled off the bill and voted no on its passage. Lynch worked for months on the bill and said its original intent was to crack down on distribution, not possession.
“Public sentiment took possession into my distribution and manufacturing bill. It had nothing to do my original four-page bill,” Lynch said. “Once that took over the bill, that became the bill. And if we're going to do it, we need to do it. We need to fix that problem."
In its original form, which Lynch helped craft, the bill called for anything more than four grams of fentanyl possession to be considered a felony. The final version of the bill made one gram of possession a felony, though it did create a mechanism for those charged to argue in court that they didn’t know it was fentanyl.
Even with the distribution, other portions of the bill remaining largely intact and the tighter possession rules, Lynch said he could not stand behind the bill in good faith.
“Will it make a difference? You bet. Will it be good? Sure. But I know we can do better, and that that needs to be the standard,” Lynch said.
Unsurprisingly, Republicans and Democrats also disagreed about a bill to codify abortion rights.
Democrats called the Reproductive Health Equity Act important, live-saving care that gives women the right to make their own health decisions.
“What happened is that there were 15 or 20 hallmark pieces of legislation, and we did them all at once," said Sen. Dominick Moreno, D - Adams.
Republicans were asked about the abortion rights bill multiple times. They said it was important to spend time fighting it since that’s what their constituents sent them there to do but pivoted to affordability as an issue that affects more families more immediately.
It was the best of sessions, it was the worst of sessions. It all depends on who you ask.