Despite Colorado’s desperate need of economic relief during this pandemic, the state legislature did not convene for the promised “special session” through the spring, summer, or fall months to provide the respite the good people of Colorado need and expect from their elected officials, instead waiting until last week. Better late than never, some might say, until they see what the legislature produced during the long-awaited session.
Unfortunately, it was nothing more than lawmakers executing the agenda of Governor Polis without any sort of negotiation or alterations. Well, almost: the well-informed legislators added “motion pictures and TV” to the section of a bill that doles out $7.5 million to the music, theater, dance and visual arts industry. I guess Netflix didn’t do as well as they expected when people were forced to stay home.
This governor’s disdain for agriculture and rural Colorado was evident – as was expected – by the absence of any aid those outside of the I-25 corridor. I offered an amendment to add 1% to the entire financial aid package for agriculture events such as the Colorado Farm Show, the National Western Stock Show, and the Governor’s Forum on Agriculture. The Appropriations Committee members saw the need and added $3 million to the package.
In the thirty minutes it took to get from committee to the Senate chamber, the Governor’s office marched to the Democratic offices issuing the orders that what happened in Appropriations was not part of their plan – the governor does not want agriculture included in this legislation. He whipped the lawmakers on that side of the aisle into submission, including the Senator who represents the Stock Show, and the only agriculture-related reference was removed.
If that wasn’t enough of a poke at rural Colorado, they will withhold all of the funds from that bill to any county that hasn’t enforced the most recent order from the governor. Despite the fact that regional elected officials view those orders as violating their local control, restaurants, bars and gyms were closed or restricted for the previous six or seven months. Even those businesses that have fully complied will not be included, because this governor is sending his heavy-handed message to all Colorado counties: he is in charge.
This orchestrated execution of the governor’s plan continued without a hitch for all three days. Democratic leadership in both chambers marched step-in-step to the drumbeat of the master, and there was never a doubt that any attempt for the legislature to do something of substance for all Coloradans would not be tolerated.
One of those attempts was my bill to limit the power of a governor when they invoke an emergency order – including any future governor of any party – requiring that if that order continues beyond 60 days, the legislature would need to be involved. Unfortunately, the leadership in both chambers are content with their governor calling all the shots. My bill died a quick death in committee.
As I try to look at the glass half full, I know there will be some great help to Colorado with the additional $250 million (roughly) allocated for tax relief, broadband access, housing and rent relief. We were able to pass my other bill that assigns $45 million to childcare, to current childcare facilities who are struggling or in need of expansion, as well as helping new providers startup. In rural Colorado, childcare is a limited resource and we need more opportunities, even without a pandemic.
All-in-all, those were three long-overdue days that should have happened months ago to help businesses in every part of Colorado stay afloat. Perhaps late is better than never, but for many Coloradans it is too little too late.
Jerry Sonnenberg is a state senator from Sterling, representing Senate District 1.
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