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The Colorado legislature returns for the first regular session of the 73rd General Assembly on Jan. 13. Kind of. Using the power that the Colorado Supreme Court gave them last year to conduct their …
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The Colorado legislature returns for the first regular session of the 73rd General Assembly on Jan. 13. Kind of.
Using the power that the Colorado Supreme Court gave them last year to conduct their 120 sessions over non-consecutive days during a state of emergency, legislators plan to come in just long enough to swear in members and take care of urgent needs before recessing and coming back to conduct business later in the year.
As we saw both at the end of the last regular session last spring and during the special session in the fall, it’s less than ideal for the legislature to meet during a pandemic. First and foremost, meeting under these conditions provides limited ability for the public to meaningfully participate. Significant numbers of legislators participated remotely. Social distancing inside the Capitol limited where and how meetings could take place. Most members of the public were unwilling to enter the Capitol at the risk of being subjected to the virus. These realities created limitations to communicate with legislators and provide input as important public policy issues were considered. Additionally, there was an underlying tension as some legislators refused to wear masks.
In addition to the limitations of conducting public business in public during a pandemic, the extra time the recess will provide should give decision-makers better information about how to proceed and what can be accomplished. Because of the devastating impact the virus has had on the economy and tax collections, large budget cuts had to be made to balance the state budget. The delay will provide more time and information about if and how the economy is recovering. With better data, the legislature will know if further cuts are necessary or how much, if any, additional resources will be available to fund new or existing programs.
While there are no assurances that the extra time will fundamentally change the risks of people gathering in public, it is likely that as the first phases of the vaccine are provided that legislative work can be conducted in public more safely.
Legislative leaders have made a responsible decision to delay work until later in the year. The delay should provide more opportunities for public understanding and participation, more and better data about what resources are available and a safer environment. They should continue to monitor how additional time impacts each of these factors and develop both the timing and an appropriate agenda to move forward based upon whether and how things change.
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