For those of us who think the legislature’s main job is to make sure government basically leaves people alone and remains safely on a tight leash, this has been a tough legislative session in Colorado.
You know those prizes where a person has maybe a minute to fill up a store cart with as much stuff as possible? That’s a little like what the recently-ended legislative session felt like watching majority Democrats scamper to pass whatever they could grab to spend, tax, and regulate. Only the time frame painfully dragged on month after month. This is exciting if you’re the Progressive Democrat with the cart, but if you’re one of the people paying for the stuff in the cart it’s nerve-racking.
To switch metaphors, watching this legislative session has felt like drinking from a firehose. The only people with detailed knowledge about what the legislature did are the legislators themselves (and even that’s a question mark in some cases), legislative staff, the governor and his staff, journalists who worked full-time to observe the legislature, and a few other masochists who kept tabs. If you asked normal people to relate the legislature’s efforts, most people would struggle more than usual even to offer a few highlights. An aggressive legislature quickly outpaces the demos it’s supposed to represent.
As a weekly columnist with lots of other stuff going on, I certainly was not able to keep track of all the important legislation. I’d have to spend days or weeks to create a good summary of the session. Various news outlets produced limited roundups. I did address aspects of a few bills in my previous columns.
An obvious problem is that we now live in a one-party-dominated state. With split-party control, often one party kills the worst legislation of the other party, and members of both parties tend to offer more-modest bills. But we’re living through a period of Democrats Run Wild.
It does not help that Republicans cannot seem to get their stuff together. Trumpism largely destroyed the Colorado GOP. During the session, some Republican legislators acted like they were on an episode of the old Jerry Springer show. Republicans ended the session engaged in super-important party squabbling over, and I quote a Republican legislator, “bullshit.”
But one-party dominance is not all bad. Back in 2003, when Republicans held power, Governor Bill Owens signed a bill liberalizing the concealed carry of a handgun. Generally, we can expect Democrats to do some good things (from a liberty perspective) concerning matters of personal liberties and criminal justice.
Democrats allowed for the composting of dead people. They extended to-go alcohol sales by restaurants, albeit with limits. These are modest pro-liberty reforms.
On the criminal justice front, the legislature curbed the suspension of driver’s licenses, limited the emergency use of ketamine (a drug that contributed to the death of Elijah McClain), and retooled misdemeanor classifications (which as far as I can tell is a good idea). Democrats did not manage to pass an ambitious bill to limit arrests, although I suspect they’ll try again next year. I like the general aim of reducing arrests, although I worry this bill was too lenient with certain forms of serious criminality.
Another Democratic reform I like is enabling instant runoff voting at the municipal level. I’d still rather see approval voting, where people can vote for as many candidates as they want, and I’d like to see voting reform brought to all levels of government. But this is a start.
In the anti-liberty column, to list a few examples, we got massive new transportation taxes without voter approval, a net tax hike by way of reduced deductions (again without a vote), various ill-conceived gun restrictions, and a partial ban on plastic bags and containers.
Journalists as Progessive cheerleaders
Of course, it doesn’t help that Colorado’s Progressive-“friendly” journalists cheerlead Progressive legislation. For example, here is what one Denver Post reporter Tweeted about the diaper subsidy bill (Senate Bill 27): “Lead sponsor started working on this issue earlier this year after reading a Denver Post story about diaper need. One of the reasons we need local journalism: highlight problems in need of solutions.” Unsurprisingly, the paper’s “news” coverage of the bill is a fawning endorsement without a hint of critical analysis. But, hey, it’s for the children, so we don’t need to ask pesky questions such as why the legislature didn’t just distribute the cash directly to poor parents rather than fund a diaper bureaucracy.
In terms of lawmaking, the political debate in Colorado is now between the hard-core Progressives who want a massive cradle-to-grave welfare state and heavy regulations of private business and moderate Progressives (such as the governor) who blend their love for muscular government with a desire for a productive economy.
But this is still Colorado, and the state still has a strong libertarian streak. If Republicans ever can manage to get their act together, Democrats may once again find that legislative overreach costs them come election time.
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