The Spot: Colorado legislature jammed up as the days start to dwindle

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An alien sound rang throughout the Colorado House of Representatives this week, a monotone computerized voice reading bills out loud — an indication a member of the minority party has requested a bill to be “read at length” in order to slow proceedings.

Democrats once thought they’d be able to end the 2021 legislative session sometime by Memorial Day. That now looks like wishful thinking: Today is Day 97 of a session that can run no more than 120 days, and there’s a lot left to do.

Sessions often start slow and end in a fury of late nights and weekends and last-minute deals. But a substantial portion of the remaining big-ticket bills are coming from the Senate to the House, where Republicans have demonstrated they’re willing to grind things to a halt.

The biggest time-consuming bills that haven’t been debated in the House yet include SB21-200 (a climate bill that pits Democrats against the governor); SB21-260 (the billion-dollar transportation funding bill); SB21-173 (a wounded tenant rights bill opposed by landlords); SB21-87 (a bill to expand rights for agricultural workers); and SB21-271 (a bill that reevaluates 1,100 misdemeanor crimes).

And if you hang on to priority bills too long, you might lose one or more of them in the late-session flurry. In 2019, for example, Senate Democrats abandoned a House bill to improve vaccination rates in the state because they simply didn’t have time to overcome GOP opposition and pass the rest of their agenda before the final bell.

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Top Line

Find a new job and start working before May 29, get up to $1,600. That’s part of the state’s new incentive to get people back in the workforce. Read more about it.

Capitol Diary • By Saja Hindi

Becoming law

When Colorado lawmakers set their agenda for 2021, they vowed to “build back stronger” from the pandemic. That’s a little vague, but they had a list of priorities — in addition to COVID-19 recovery. While there’s a lot still needing to get done, lawmakers have passed bills that were signed by Gov. Jared Polis or will be soon.

  • Budget: The new fiscal year starts July 1, and the governor signed SB21-205, also known as the Long Bill, to allocate $34.1 billion. Lawmakers are still working on passing some of the state’s stimulus funding, coming in separate bills.
  • Gun bills: While Democrats introduced three new gun bills after the Boulder shooting and one other pending that would prevent domestic violence abusers from having guns, SB21-1106 that requires the safe storage of weapons in homes and SB21-078, requiring reporting lost or stolen firearms, have been signed.
  • Removing the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse: After more than a decade of trying to pass such a law, SB21-073 signed into law allows victims of child sexual abuse to sue their abusers any time after the abuse occurred.
  • Protecting public health workers: Polis signed HB21-1107, which would make it a misdemeanor for people to post public health workers’ information online if it could threaten them or their families.
  • Human composting: Colorado is the second state to allow composting of human bodies after death through SB21-006.
  • Medical cannabis: A new Colorado law was signed with SB21-056 to allow for expanded use of medical marijuana in schools.

More Colorado political news

  • The Colorado Senate passes a $5.3 billion transportation bill, sending it to the House.
  • Colorado’s coal country searches for “next thing” to keep it afloat.
  • Colorado Democrats kill a controversial bill on policing and jails and will start over.
  • Lawmakers are working on a bill about metro district elections.
  • A new bill would provide free menstrual products to students in certain schools.
  • Three Colorado-based food companies contracted with Colorado Correctional Industries for ingredients, The Counter reported this week.

Federal Politics • By Justin Wingerter

Ken Buck has no exit strategy

Every so often, U.S. Rep. Ken Buck sounds like a man who is deeply unhappy in Congress and eager to retire. And every two years, he runs for re-election.

Last week, the conservative congressman from Weld County was asked on Capitol Hill whether former President Donald Trump could turn on him for defending Republican Rep. Liz Cheney (a Trump foe) and for criticizing Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik (a Trump ally).

“I’ve been looking for an exit strategy for six and a half years, so if that’s the exit strategy that’s OK,” Buck told reporters Friday. He’s been in Congress for six years and five months.

Buck has a dry, often sarcastic, sense of humor and his remark drew some quiet laughs. But he has been frank about his dislike of Congress, telling HBO documentarians in 2019 that it has drained him of life, that people don’t care what he has to say and that he considered leaving.

“As you see from our movie, Ken is sad,” Morgan Pehme, one of the film’s directors, told me in an interview then. “Ken is beaten down by the system.”

Buck, 62, said in the documentary that he would either retire in 2020 or “run for one more term” ending in 2022. Instead, he is running again in 2022. Republicans on the Eastern Plains waiting to join Congress can only shrug — and keep waiting.

Recommended reading, from 2010: Buck’s East Coast ambition meets West allure.

More federal politics news

  • For the Japanese Americans and nationals imprisoned at Amache during World War II, there’s been a lifetime of silence and undeserved shame. Hear the experiences in their words and the words of their descendants.
  • U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn was sued by a former staffer last week, and emails show a government employee in his office ran a personal errand for Lamborn’s wife.
  • Grand Junction has a new ally as it tries to keep the Bureau of Land Management there.

Mile High Politics • By Conrad Swanson

A win and a loss for Denver’s homeless population

A Denver nonprofit and church can move forward setting up a legal homeless encampment in Park Hill after a judge dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday.

Cole Chandler, executive director of the nonprofit Colorado Village Collaborative, said his organization has a “valid permit in hand” for the proposed site in the parking lot of the Park Hill United Methodist Church and will move forward with their plan. He previously said he wants to open the site to about 50 people early next month.

The lawsuit had been filed on behalf of four Park Hill residents, who sought an injunction to keep the site from opening and said the proposal poses a danger to children and “does not address the impact it will have on the neighborhood.”

But a district court judge dismissed the case, writing that Park Hill residents should have instead sought an appeal with city officials.

Chandler’s nonprofit open the safe outdoor space in Park Hill and soon one at Regis University.

But as those move forward, a lawsuit aiming to help the homeless lost its appeal on May 10.

The Colorado Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal over a lawsuit that claims the city’s urban camping ban is unconstitutional. That lawsuit has shuffled back and forth in the courts for well over a year.

Since the Supreme Court won’t take up the case it now heads to trial in Denver District Court, according to attorney Andy McNulty, who filed the suit.

It’s not yet clear how the Supreme Court’s decision could affect Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman’s upcoming proposal to ban urban camping, though an Aurora spokesman said the city attorney will carefully consider possible effects.

More Denver and suburban political news

  • Fewer people will return to in-person work downtown than before the pandemic, city officials say, but they’re not stressed about what that means for the economy.
  • The Denver City Council kicked the last remnants of the “Stapleton” neighborhood name to the curb, unanimously agreeing to update city plans and documents with“Central Park.”
  • Denver restaurants and other businesses will soon have to ask customers whether they want single-use items like utensils or condiment packages, rather than automatically handing them over.

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