DENVER — Just about anyone you talk to at the Colorado Capitol has a metaphor for the last two weeks of the legislative session.
For some, it’s like a sprint to the finish after a marathon of work. Others liken it to cramming before a big test in college. Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert likens it to juggling BBs and bowling balls while House Minority Leader Hugh McKean says it feels more like a long drive.
“It’s like the end of a long road trip where everybody's out of snacks and they're a little grumpy and we're down to the warm water in the back,” McKean said.
No matter what metaphor you use though, none of them truly explain the chaotic push to the end for everyone involved in the process.
During the last two weeks in particular, there is a noticeable shift in the energy around the Colorado Capitol. The hallways are more crowded, the whispered negotiations become a little louder and the debates can drag out as some try to delay bills to their death. No matter what happens in the last two weeks, though, the session stops at 120 days.
“It seems like, you know, the legislature kind of always procrastinates till the end, and all of the work ends up getting piled up towards the end of session,” said Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno.
There are officially less than two weeks left in the 2022 legislative session and still roughly 328 bills that are making their way through the process, including some big legislation that will inevitably lead to long debates.
Because there is so much left to work on and such little time, both the majority and minority in the Senate agree some of the lower priority bills will need to wait until a future session.
“There is actually no way to get through the pending bills in the remaining two weeks of legislative session,” Moreno said.
The Senate inevitably blames the House for the holdup in bills, saying they’re eagerly awaiting more legislation to either approve or nix.
“They were pretty proud of themselves a couple of days ago. They sent us 30, and they gave themselves a pat on the back for that. And I said, "That is great. Please do it four more times, because that is the volume of bills that you have in your chamber,"” Moreno said.
House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, however, doesn’t like the fact that the blame is being placed on the House once again this year for the delay. She points out that the House has a lot more members, so it has a lot more opinions and a lot more bills to work through than the Senate.
She also took a jab at the Senate, saying her chamber is being much more prudent with spending. Nevertheless, Esgar is starting to ask herself and her members to take a look at the bills that are left to determine which ones must pass this session and which ones can wait.
“We do have a lot of great work that we need to get done, and I'm hoping that we can come together in bipartisan ways,” Esgar said.
Here’s a snapshot of what is left:
Fentanyl bill: After some very long committee discussions in the House, House Bill 22-1326 is now in the Senate, where once again it could undergo some serious changes. The bill aims to curb the prevalence of fentanyl in the state by cracking down on distribution networks while also offering more rehabilitative service. The biggest fight over the bill to date is whether possession should be a felony. Republicans, law enforcement and some district attorneys want a zero-tolerance policy. Many Democrats, however, have argued that penalizing addicts won’t fix the problem.
The House compromised and brought felony possession levels down to one gram. The Senate will now take a closer look at whether the House version of the bill is something they want to move forward with.
Unemployment trust fund replenishment: Colorado lawmakers unveiled a bipartisan bill Wednesday that aims to put $600 million toward the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to pay off more than half the debt Colorado owes to the federal government for supporting its unemployment payments during the pandemic-induced recession. The bill still needs to make it through both chambers to pass. However, both Republicans and Democrats agree that this is important to take care of this session.
“We need to restore that unemployment trust fund before we leave here, and we need to do it in a significant way. We also believe in the Republican Party that we shouldn't do that just by increasing fees or taxes on businesses. We are swimming in money, federal relief dollars should be used in a very significant way for that,” Holbert said.
Election integrity bill: Democrats this session introduced a bill that aims to shore up election security further in Colorado in the face of alleged security compromises in Mesa and Elbert counties by the clerk and recorders in those counties. Senate Bill 22-153, called the Colorado Election Security Act, would strengthen some existing security laws and add new ones to try to better keep people from potentially compromising election systems. The bill has already passed the Senate and two House committees. However, it could lead to a lengthy debate on the House floor because Republicans have expressed concerns with the bill’s intent.
“Election integrity has a lot of people concerned because it changes the structure of what we've had for local control of elections and it brings so much more of that control back to the Secretary of State at the state level,” McKean said.
Producer responsibility bill: House Bill 22-1355 would create a producer responsibility program in the state. It would require companies that sell products in the state to pay into the program for the amount of goods they sell in the state and the waste they contribute. The money would then be used towards a statewide recycling program that would establish a clear, uniform list of what’s recyclable and educate the public on it. The bill passed two House committees but still needs two more votes in that chamber before heading over to the Senate.
"Forever chemicals" in consumer products bill: House Bill 22-1345 would prohibit the sale of carpets, cosmetics, cookware, fabric treatments, food packaging, children’s products, furniture and other items that have PFAS chemicals in them starting in 2024. The bill passed three House committees but still needs the chamber’s final approval before debate can begin in the Senate.
Climate bills: Colorado Democrats continued their work this session to work on a series of bills aimed at cleaning up the state’s air and water. One of the bills, Senate Bill 22-138, would, among other things, incentivize people to buy electric lawn equipment by offering them a tax credit. Others would offer free transit during high ozone months or set up several grant programs in the state to help businesses and families cut down on pollution. All are at various stages in the legislative process.
Collective bargaining: One of the more contentious bills still left on the calendar is a bill that would allow public workers from the state’s counties to form unions and, if enough people join, enter into collective bargaining agreements. The bill was introduced this week after lengthy behind-the-scenes discussions among Democrats. Republicans are promising to fight it, though, saying they have up to 230 amendments ready to go.
“I really don't understand why this waited so long, and if it's so important to the Democrats and their supporters at AFLCIO, is it really worth putting this bill through this late when it's going to take so much time?” Holbert said.
Despite the disagreements over some of the most contentious bills, both sides agree that there are some that must pass, including the wildfire bills and bills that allocate out federal money.
With so many debates left to be had and so little time, lawmakers will likely be called in on at least one weekend to finish up some work.
The only constitutionally-mandated bill legislators must pass each year is a budget. Gov. Jared Polis signed that bill into law this week. However, both Republicans and Democrats say there’s still a lot of work they’re hoping to wrap up in the next 13 days, whether it’s constitutionally mandated or not.