DENVER — As the Colorado Supreme Court is getting ready to decide the definition of calendar days with regard to the ongoing emergency adjournment of the state legislature, seven “interested parties” filed briefs this week arguing why or why not that definition should mean consecutive.
Complete Colorado outlined both sides of the issue in a previous report. However, two of the groups filing briefs in favor of allowing legislators to continue the session at will, may have underlying motives to their intent. The groups represent, for the most part, health care agencies, teachers and law enforcement, all of which stand to gain if certain bills get through the legislature that might not otherwise.
With the reaction to coronavirus effectively shutting down the state, lawmakers face an unchartered predicament when it comes to how to proceed with this year’s legislative session.
When leaders suspended the session on March 14, it was initially scheduled to pick back up on March 30. However, with the Governor shutting down the state to all but essential businesses until at least April 11, lawmakers could find themselves facing a much shorter session than any in the past several decades.
Although legislators are considered essential, bills making their way through the process must allow public testimony. Regardless of whether that testimony would be in person or remotely, it would require gatherings of crowds against the recommended social distancing guidelines that are likely to still be in place.
All agree that the three things the legislature must do every year: pass a budget bill, pass the school finance act, and pass a rules bill, could be done via a special session once the threat is over.
However, there are disagreements on whether the legislature would ignore the state Constitution by extending its session past the scheduled date of May 6. Briefs were filed by the expected parties, assembly Republicans and assembly Democrats, the governor and the attorney general, as well as free market think tank, the Independence Institute.
However, two other filings came from a large group of special interests that are hoping to keep government going long enough to get several bills they support thought the system, since the make-up of the legislature could be different after the 2020 elections.
With Democrats controlling both the House and the Senate, already many progressive agenda bills have made their way to the governor’s desk, despite large push back from the public, including the National Popular Vote bill (which will go before the voters in November as a citizens’ referendum to repeal), the death penalty repeal, the red flag law, sweeping changes to oil and gas production and many others.
This session, several other bills have yet to make it to the floor including a public health option, a family leave bill, the creation of a new fund that would increase teacher salaries, and several gun restrictions, including a safe storage bill.
Many of these could cost the state millions in a year when revenue was expected to be short already by about three-quarters of a billion dollars before the governor essentially shut down the economy as a reaction to cornavirus.
Many of these bills are supported by special interest groups represented in the brief filed by Towards Justice. The non-profit law firm filed the brief collectively on behalf of the group “Left Alliance.” That group includes the ACLU of Colorado, Adams County Commissioner Steve O’Dorisio (in his individual capacity), American Federation of Teachers Colorado, Bell Policy Center, City of Aurora, City of Northglenn, Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, Colorado Fiscal Institute, Counties and Commissioners Acting Together, Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, Club 20, Democrats for Education Reform, Denver District Attorney, Good Business Colorado Association, Interfaith Alliance Colorado, Jefferson County Board of Commissioners, Metro Mayors Caucus, SEIU, Sixth Judicial District Attorney’s Office, Towards Justice and Women’s Lobby of Colorado.
A separate brief filed was filed on behalf of the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials (CALPHO).
Attorneys for both groups argue Joint Assembly Rule 44 allows the General Assembly to count its 120-day calendar in separate days “if the governor has declared a state of disaster emergency due to a public health emergency,” adding the rule “relaxes the calendar for the state legislature to provide it with the freedom and flexibility it requires to respond adequately in a crisis.”
“… Joint Rule 44, which applies because the governor’s declaration of a disaster emergency, the General Assembly need not count the days of this adjournment toward the constitutional limit,” the brief by Attorneys for Left Alliance write.
Those against Joint Rule 44 say it’s never been invoked because it is unconstitutional and would cause any bills passed to be invalidated.
Left Alliance concedes in its brief that although the General Assembly enacted the Joint Rule 44 in 2009 after President Obama declared a national emergency because of the H1N1 flue pandemic, the rule has never been invoked.
CALPHO attorneys argue allowing Joint Rule 44 to proceed is the only solution that will allow the General Assembly to respond effectively.