State Senate President Leroy Garcia started this year’s legislative session by saying, “We must engage in dialogue and collaboration…Coloradans did not elect us to engage in gamesmanship. They elected us to work, to reach across the aisle…”
That sentiment seems to have long been forgotten, and gamesmanship reigns under Garcia’s leadership. Over the last few weeks, Democrats have been ramming through bill after bill with a spirit of condescension instead of collaboration. We get it, the majority can pass anything and everything it wants. But legislators in the minority, and the public, should at least be heard. We are a little more than halfway through a 120-day legislative session, and there is no reason to rush through bills at this time, unless blocking dissenting opinions is the ultimate goal.
The first example came with the National Popular Vote bill. Without sending it to the people to decide, Democratic legislators and the Governor passed a bill to hand over Colorado’s electoral votes to the big states on the coasts, regardless of how Coloradans actually vote in a presidential race.
Next, the new “Red Flag” bill was introduced. This year’s proposal goes much farther than last year’s – and lost the scant Republican support it did have in the process. The bill does nothing to address due process concerns, shifts the burden of proof onto the gun owner, and doubles the amount of time of the seizure of firearms. The reaction from counties across Colorado has been swift – with more than a dozen declaring themselves “2nd Amendment Sanctuary Counties.”
But Democrats were just getting warmed up. A bill to abolish the death penalty was introduced without even consulting Democratic Senator Rhonda Fields – whose son was murdered in 2005 by two men currently on death row. Fields, rightfully upset, tweeted to her party leadership, “No conversations with victims like me who have been harmed. Voters and victims’ voices matter. What’s the rush?” The disrespect Senator Fields has had to endure by this process is simply inexcusable.
Next, there was SB-181, which will devastate the oil and gas industry in our state. While proudly stating that the industry was not a stakeholder in the process of crafting SB-181, bill sponsors even took to Twitter to trash-talk opponents of the legislation. Knowing they have the votes to do whatever they want, they pushed the bill through three committees and the full Senate in just eight working days. One might think that far-reaching legislation like this would go through more deliberation and debate. After all, this is a $30B a year industry, which provides tens of thousands of jobs and over $650M in school funding to Colorado.
Most recently, a nearly $1 billion tax increase for paid family leave had its first hearing in the middle of the bomb cyclone, the biggest blizzard Denver has seen in years. The rest of government, schools, and businesses were shut down for safety concerns. First responders were pleading with the public to stay off the roads. But for admittedly political reasons, the State Senate was in session. Democratic legislators even said that they would read any testimony that was submitted by people who couldn’t make it to testify in person – but then voted on the bill without even doing that. Perhaps in the testimony that wasn’t heard, someone pointed out that this tax blatantly violates the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) and will immediately end up in the courts.
We know that there is still more extreme legislation to come this session. Recently, House Speaker KC Becker announced that they’re going after the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, despite 71% support from Colorado voters. While I genuinely hope Colorado keeps its #1 economic rating far into the future, all of these changes will inevitably impact the economy and hurt our state.
Regardless of the size of the legislative majority, the people of Colorado (and even the opposition party) deserve to be treated with respect. Governing should be a collaborative, fair, and thoughtful process. The way things are going, this session is going to be one to remember – and not in a good way.
Michael Fields is the executive director of Colorado Rising Action.