DENVER – Legislators will continue to meet today to determine what – if anything – can be done to prevent the spread of coronavirus at the state capitol, up to and including barring the general public or outright shutting things down mid-legislative session.
House District 63 Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono, who has served on the Legislative Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Committee, (LEPRR, or otherwise known as the “leper” Committee) for the past eight years, said the group, which normally meets once or twice a year, realized there are several legal questions that need to be answered before any decision can be met.
LEPRR was created by former senator Kent Lambert to oversee as an advisory committee for the Continuing Operations Plan, a plan in place in case of situations such as this.
Everything is meeting as normal as of Thursday morning, Saine said.
Despite the hundreds of pieces of legislation passed, and hundreds more that fail each year, the legislature is charged with only three requirements every session: Pass a balanced budget, pass the school finance act, and pass the rules review bill – none of which have happened yet this year.
The state Constitution is vague, Saine said, about what happens if the session has to be suspended.
- Can the daily requirement be suspended and taken up at a later date?
- Can the session be canceled entirely?
- Can the session be canceled with the promise of a special session called later?
Saine said there were varying differences of opinions to those questions, and the legislative committee will need more information before it can make a recommendation to the executive committee.
Saine added the executive committee is likely to meet today, as are the individual caucuses, to discuss the matter further.
The biggest issue, she said, is public testimony. Bills can’t be heard without public input and people are afraid to gather in large groups, especially now amid rumor a legislator was tested and may have been exposed.
That rumor has since been clarified, the legislator was diagnosed with bronchitis, said Sage Naumann, communications director for the Senate Republicans.
Saine used House Bill 20-1349, the single payer health insurance bill that was heard yesterday in committee, as an example.
Many doctors and nurses were either scared to come out and possibly expose themselves or busy dealing with the Coronavirus scare, so there was much more testimony that could have been heard, she said.
“We’ve seen bills flip on the testimony of one person,” Saine said. “We have to be able to take testimony.”
Saine said the legislature is exploring all options, including not allowing the public in the capitol, but taking testimony from remote locations instead, something Saine herself doesn’t support.
“You still have to gather at a remote location,” she said. “That’s outrageous. It defeats the whole purpose. That doesn’t make any sense.”
Saine said legislators are taking the situation very seriously. They will make a decision as soon as all the answers are available.