Live blog: Final day of Colorado’s legislative session

News and insights from around the Capitol

Colorado lawmakers drop a giant rubber band ball from the Capitol dome every year to mark the end of the legislative session. (Photo by Mark Castillo)

The Colorado State Capitol hasn’t seen a week like this in a long time, and it may be a long time before it does again.

Here’s a brief recap: Colorado’s General Assembly flipped in the November election from a split — Democrats with a majority the House, Republicans with a majority the Senate — to full Democratic control. That opened the floodgates for progressive legislation that’s been mostly in purgatory for the last four years. Democrats introduced bills to reform guns laws, oil and gas regulations, the criminal justice and health care systems, greenhouse gas emissions limits and much more.

But all that work didn’t happen quickly. Of the 598 total bills introduced this year, 220 were still pending as of Monday, the 116th day of the 120-day session. That logjam forced lawmakers to pull extreme hours, including one 9 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. period earlier this week. By Wednesday, the 220 had been whittled down to 129, then 110 on Thursday.

As of Friday morning, there are still dozens of bills pending. It’ll be a day of frantic legislation, possibly into the night. It’ll also be a colorful day of celebration and, for those who work in this building, immense relief.

We’ll be updating here all day with news and color. Follow along!

6:45 p.m.

A senator was drinking a glass of whiskey. House Speaker KC Becker dropped the gavel. The House adjourns. The legislative session is over.

6:15 p.m.

The House gave final approval to a bill to change the sex education curriculum in K-12 schools, including making it more difficult to teach abstinence as the only method to prevent pregnancy. Lawmakers were chatting amongst themselves and eating donuts as Republicans made last-ditch pleas to sink the bill over religious concerns. The bill passed 40-23, along party lines.

They also gave final approval to a media literacy bill by a 40-23 vote, also along party lines. In an era of misinformation, the bill requires the Department of Education to come up with a media literacy curriculum intended to help students decipher fact from fiction.

They also passed a joint resolution that comes as the final touches on a workplace harassment policy overhaul. A key provision in the bill gives confidentiality protections to people who come forward with complaints to avoid political retaliation.

5:15 p.m. 

The Senate and onlookers — including the governor — gathered in the Capitol rotunda to observe the tradition dropping of the rubber band balls. The minority and majority parties dropped their own rubber band balls from the Capitol dome down to the first floor. Everyone cheers. It’s one of those “you have to be there” things.

5:03 p.m. 

The Senate adjourns.

4:32 p.m.

The House gave final approval to the partial reopening of a high-security prison in Cañon City, Centennial South, by a 62-1 vote. The bill authorizes 126 beds in the facility to be used if the prison population hits or exceeds 99 percent capacity for two consecutive months. The authorization expires after one year. Find our previous coverage on this issue here.

They passed another bill that would make it easier to dismiss lawsuits aimed at silencing criticism. These lawsuits are known as strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs.

4:02 p.m.

Gov. Jared Polis just met with reporters for an end-of-session press conference. It was just the third time he’s held a press availability since his inauguration.

The presser kicked off with Polis, flanked by two whiteboards, speaking for about 15 minutes on what he considers major accomplishments this session on the health care and education fronts. From there, it was about 10 minutes of Q&A, highlighted by Polis dodging several questions. He was asked which of the bills he signed made him “grumpy” — Polis said at a recent event that he was grumpy about a few bills he’d signed, The Colorado Sun reported — and he answered by listing a number of bills that made him happy to sign.

The Independent asked him whether he intends to sign House Bill 1266, which would restore voting rights to some 9,000 people with felony convictions who are out on parole. He said he was undecided and then, when asked on follow-up what his general philosophy on felon voting rights is, he dodged and spoke about a different bill.

Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Democrat from Longmont, cradles his child on the House floor on May 3, 2019. (Photo by John Herrick)

1:51 p.m.

Things have been way, way calmer in the state Senate than many assumed they’d be. That’s because much of the controversy on the bill calendar was taken care of earlier this week, which means this final day of session has been, for the most part, devoid of fireworks.

But the Senate GOP came ready for at least one more battle, it seems. Their members are currently engaged in a semi-filibuster of SB-236, which would force Xcel Energy to transition to 100-percent renewable electricity by 2050. Their stand isn’t likely to work, but it is guaranteed to keep lawmakers here a little longer in the day.

1:38 p.m. 

Marianne Goodland, a reporter with Colorado Politics, plays the harp on May 3, 2019, Sine Die. (Photo by John Herrick)
Marianne Goodland, a reporter with Colorado Politics, plays the harp on May 3, 2019, Sine Die. (Photo by John Herrick)

The mood is relaxed on the House floor. Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Democrat from Longmont, cradles his child as Marianne Goodland, a reporter with Colorado Politics, practices the harp. The gallery is mostly empty. Lawmakers are beginning to walk in from the balcony on the west side of the building.  

11:30 a.m. 

The Senate passed a bill that would legalize sports betting, including on collegiate sports such as baseball and basketball, by a 27-8 vote. The bill will also ask voters to approve a tax on winnings to pay for water conservation projects. The tax could raise up to $10 million per year, still far short of paying for the implementation of the Colorado Water Plan, an unfunded manifesto designed to avoid water shortages estimated to cost $100 million per year for the next 30 years.

11:00 a.m. 

Students rally on the west steps of the state Capitol for stronger action on climate change on May 3, 2018. (Photo by John Herrick)

Dozens of high schoolers are on the west steps demanding more action on climate change, holding signs that say “Don’t Frack Your Mother” and “Keep It In The Ground.”

A tarp painted the colors of Earth is draped over the steps as students speak to the crowd using a solar-powered public address system. One student opines: Why bother showing up to school when the future is at stake?

Marlow Baine, a 17-year-old from Longmont with Earth Guardians, an environmental advocacy group, said the students came to the state Capitol to advocate for two bills. One, which would have banned the use of styrofoam containers by restaurants, was killed earlier this week. Another would tweak the state’s campaign finance disclosure law, which Baine said would help the public better understand the influence of the oil and gas industry on elected officials.

In 2018, the oil and gas industry spent $1.5 million to help elect Republicans to the state Senate and House, according to a Colorado Independent analysis of data from the Colorado secretary of state.

10:37 a.m.

Colorado’s Senate passes House Bill 1032 — the bill for comprehensive sexual education in public schools — on a 21-14 vote. Republicans Don Coram and Kevin Priola joined all Democrats in supporting it. There was relatively little debate on the floor about this bill, which is a reflection of the fact that Republicans feel they had a successful week and no longer need to obstruct so much. They picked their battles and won quite a few of them. The sex-ed bill, which has been significantly amended and was never nearly as consequential as its attending controversy indicated, was no longer worth the fight for them by the time it came up today.

Also of note: the Senate just passed House Bill 1124, which installs some protections from ICE for immigrants living in Colorado. Gov. Jared Polis pushed back hard against this and a related bill and eventually watered the legislation down to what it is now — a shell of its former self, but still impactful.

10:11 a.m. 

The House has passed the last piece of a massive climate change policy package 40-24 along party lines. It includes several provisions to transform the state’s electric grid from one mostly powered by coal to renewables such as wind and solar.

The bill, SB-236, will require the state’s largest electric utility, Xcel, to power its electric grid entirely with renewables by 2050. This comes on top of a separate bill that sets a visionary goal to slash the state’s carbon emissions 90 percent, compared to 2005 levels, by 2050.

In the event of a coal plant closure, the bill requires Xcel to file a “workforce transition plan” with the Public Utilities Commission to help workers transition into a new line of work, referred to as a “just transition” provision.

The bill, which has swelled from 26 to 81 pages, is a key part of Democrats’ climate agenda, but sponsors worry it’s gargantuan size and technical scope makes final passage later today uncertain.

“It’s a complicated piece of legislation. Therefore, it takes a long time for people to wrap their heads around it. And we’re on the last day. That is always a threat,” said bill sponsor Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat.

The bill now heads to the Senate for final approval.

9:29 a.m.

The week began with 220 pending bills. Today, there are 38 in the Senate and four in the House up for a final vote, in addition to a number of bills bouncing back and forth between chambers for concurrence before heading to the governor’s desk. Lawmakers said earlier this week that they were pretty sure they’d be stuck here until midnight today. Looks like they could clear this calendar well before then. That’ll be up to the Senate, which has much more work left than the House.

9:03 a.m.

But who’s counting? (Photo by Alex Burness)

8:22 a.m.

Lawmakers are trickling in after an eventful, late night of work in the Colorado Senate. Among the highlights: Democrats voted to kill the nicotine tax Gov. Jared Polis announced last week. They abandoned a proposed bill that would have led to fewer kids being exempted from getting vaccines. They advanced a bill to change how sexual education bill is taught in schools. They also advanced a bill to ask voters to legalize and tax sports betting. Clearing all these big-ticket items on Thursday should make Friday’s slate a little lighter.

 

Video: A day of pomp as Colorado’s 2019 legislative session wraps

Here are scenes from the end of 2019 session

 

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