Colorado’s legislative session didn’t resume Monday — the date lawmakers originally set for the coronavirus recess to end — but disagreements over how to handle the extension left uncertainty about what’s next.
Senate and House Democratic leaders clashed over whether lawmakers needed to return to the Capitol in person to extend the recess until April 13 — in line with Gov. Jared Polis’ order for residents to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But some Republicans were also reluctant to sign onto a letter to adjourn for that length of time.
And on Monday, the Senate and the House took two different approaches — the House adjourned until Thursday because the Colorado Constitution allows for a three-day recess without formal agreement from both chambers. The Senate, however, postponed indefinitely based on another interpretation that allows the General Assembly to remain adjourned without setting an exact date, leaving some Senate Republicans wondering if they would have to return on Tuesday to postpone again.
House Speaker KC Becker, who was not in attendance Monday, told The Denver Post that because there are a lot of questions about priorities, the budget and the length of the session, it would be hard to suspend the session for another two weeks without some answers.
So, on Sunday night, a letter that was expected to be signed by the majority of lawmakers to extend the suspension was scrapped and an executive committee meeting planned for Monday morning canceled. Instead, a handful of lawmakers in each chamber met to hear Senate President Leroy Garcia and House Majority Leader Alec Garnett announce the postponement.
Lawmakers are waiting for the Colorado Supreme Court to rule whether the legislative session can span 120 calendar days any time during the year or whether those 120 days must be consecutive. Becker, D-Boulder, said it was clear the legislature could suspend for an additional three days without further action, and she hopes the Supreme Court will come to a decision by then.
“There’s just a lot of uncertainty right now about how to proceed and when we proceed, and when we do proceed, what are we going to be working on,” Becker said.
Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, however, said the decision to return Monday just to adjourn temporarily was only for a technicality and puts people at risk. The legal advice lawmakers received is that they could simply wait to return when they were ready to come back in session and the letter was just meant to explain to the public what they were doing, he said.
“Our caucus didn’t want to come in,” Fenberg said, adding that neither chamber was expected to have a quorum Monday.
He said regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, the question will remain about when lawmakers should resume the session, so he didn’t believe a return Monday was necessary.
“I think it’s also important to model the behavior we tell our own constituents to follow,” Fenberg said.
That’s why Senate President Leroy Garcia didn’t specify a date of return. In this type of emergency, based on legal advice, he said he believes the Senate can leave that question unanswered until it’s safe to return.
“We find ourselves in an unprecedented time in this pandemic and the reality is we should not be convened in this close quarters, this building,” Garcia, D-Pueblo, said.
Some lawmakers also want to figure out their role and priorities after Congress’ passage of a stimulus package that will bring Colorado at least $2.2 billion, Becker said.
Those are decisions that might otherwise be left to the governor.
“This is a way that we can be adjourned for less time and potentially come back and do work,” said Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, a Parker Republican.
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