Democrats will begin the 2020 legislative session with a slimmer Senate majority

Sen. Lois Court was hospitalized and diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome and Brittany Pettersen is expecting a baby boy in January.

Colorado Sen. Lois Court gathers among supporters of Prop CC, which voters rejected on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. A disappointed Court said strong turnout was critical to the measure's passage and too many voters stayed home.
Colorado Sen. Lois Court gathers among supporters of Prop CC, which voters rejected on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. She will resign on Jan. 16 due to an autoimmune disorder. (Photo by John Herrick)

Two Democratic senators will miss part of the 2020 legislative session, creating greater uncertainty about the outcome of some of the majority party’s policy priorities this year. 

Sen. Lois Court, a Democrat from Denver, was hospitalized and diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, according to a news release from Senate Democrats. Guillain-Barré is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks one’s peripheral nervous system. Court is stepping down as of Jan. 16 and, according to the new release, a vacancy committee will convene and begin the process to appoint her replacement. State Rep. Chris Hansen, a Democrat from Denver, was seeking Court’s seat in 2020 and is now seeking the appointment. 

“It has been the honor of my life to serve the people of Colorado and I am deeply saddened that this chapter of my life is at a close. But I am excited by the work my colleagues are undertaking and will continue to cheer them on and be an active citizen of Senate District 31,” said Court, who was first elected as a state representative in 2008, in a statement. 

Upon hearing of Court’s illness, her colleagues responded with sympathy, encouragement and praise for her work in the legislature.

“Senator Court is a remarkable woman whose leadership has stood the test of time. Her fierce dedication to the people of Colorado has made her an inspiring legislator and colleague,” said Senate President Leroy Garcia a Democrat from Pueblo in a statement.

Brittany Pettersen, a Democrat from Lakewood, will be absent much of the session, too, because she is expecting a baby boy in January, though she can return to the Capitol for critical votes. Pettersen will be the first state lawmaker to give birth during the legislative session, according to The Denver Post. 

Brittany Pettersen speaks with Lois Court on the Senate floor during a debate over the red flag bill on March 28, 2019. Both senators will miss some of the 2020 session. (Photo by John Herrick)

In 2018, Democrats tipped the balance of power at the state Capitol by securing a 19-16 majority in the Senate. For the first time since 2014, Democrats had control of the governor’s office and both chambers in the state legislature. The party could begin the early months of the legislative session with a 17-16 majority. With 18 votes needed to pass a bill out of the Senate, that would mean Democrats would need a Republican vote to pass any bill.  

A number of contentious bills likely to come up this session could fail with that slim majority. Some bills, such as repealing the death penalty and enacting new gun laws, could lose Democratic votes. Sen. Rhonda Fields, a Democrat from Aurora, opposed the death penalty repeal, and Senate President Garcia, who voted against an extreme risk protection order (ERPO) bill last session, also known as a red flag law, has not said if he supports requiring gun owners to keep firearms in a locked safe when not in use or to require reporting of lost and stolen firearms.

Bella Combest, a spokesperson for the Senate Democrats said Monday afternoon, “we are going to take every day as it comes. The caucus has worked with similar circumstances before. It can be challenging but you make it work. The senators are meeting as we speak.”

The Colorado Independent sought comment from Pettersen and it will be added if provided.