2022 Leg Session, Coronavirus, Larimer County, Sherrie Peif, Transparency

Bipartisan bill would check emergency powers of governor, unelected officials

DENVER — A bill going through the Colorado House of Representatives, with bipartisan support, would scale back some of the emergency powers granted to the governor and unelected officials, and seen exercised during the COVID pandemic.

Mike Lynch

House Bill 22-1238, sponsored by Rep. Mike Lynch, R-Fort Collins, would grant decision-making for such things as masks, shuttering business and other mandates initially imposed by the governor to local governments after an initial seven-day period.

It would also require the state legislature to approve any emergency declaration past one year, rather than allow the governor to roll it from one year to the next without oversight.

The bill is being sponsored in the Senate by fellow Larimer County legislator, Sen. Rob Woodward, R-Fort Collins. It also has a surprise co-sponsor in the House in Rep. Dylan Roberts, a progressive Democrat from Eagle County, who generally votes opposite most Republican legislation.

Dylan Roberts

Roberts, however, is running for the newly created Senate District 8 seat, an area that Hillary Clinton won by just 1.8 percent in the 2016 election.

The bill has been assigned to the State, Civic, Military and Veteran’s Affair committee, but does not yet have a date to be heard. The committee is generally considered the “kill committee,” where the majority Democrat leadership sends Republican-sponsored bills to die, but in this case, it is also the appropriate committee for a bill like this, so it is unknown what will happen, especially with Democrat support.

Not a ‘statement bill’

Lynch made it clear this is not a “statement bill,” which is legislation run by a lawmaker, usually in the minority and with no expectations of passing, and only introduced to make a statement about something that is usually partisan.

“I’m just trying to restore what I believe to be constitutional rights to citizens,” Lynch said. “It’s my job to put mandates on people, that’s what laws are. And what we’ve seen because of the pandemic, and what we’ve learned, hopefully, is that mandates — or laws or whatever you want to call them — are being placed on people without due process.”

Lynch said he understands that there are emergencies, but what he wants to see happen is that the mandates are put in place by someone that is elected and accountable to the people, rather than local health departments, which has been the case with COVID 19.

“That is the only thing this bill does,” Lynch said. “It says that within seven days, if a county health official says everyone has to wear masks or whatever, it is backed up by somebody we can fire. We have to make sure that it makes sense, and that the people’s voices are heard when they are being asked to do something that is silly.”

Lynch said he got the idea when constituents in his district staged a rally outside the Larimer County Health Department after the county imposed one of the most restrictive mask mandates in the state, as well as considered special exemptions for businesses that required proof of vaccinations.

The mandates led to one man placing a tractor trailer that said “resist fascism” on his property, and adjacent to the health department building in Fort Collins.

The vaccine mandate was never imposed because of the significant push back, but Lynch said it was the impetus for his bill.

“All those people wanted was (Larimer County Health Director Tom Gonzales) held accountable,” Lynch said, adding this bill is about learning from how this pandemic was handled. “It will happen again, I’m sure. But we’ll be prepared, and we’ll be smarter.”

Checking emergency powers

Lynch’s bill would require a county health department to submit a request to the local county commissioners within seven days of imposing any mandate a request to continue after that first week. The commissioners would then have 30 days to approve the continuation of the mandate and would need to reapprove every 30 days after.

“If someone wants to stick by a stupid mandate, that’s fine,” Lynch said. “But they are going to have their name on it, and the next time there is a county commissioner election, they are going to be without a job.”

Likewise, it would require the state legislature to approve any continuation of a state of emergency after one year.

“This has nothing to do with partisanship,” Lynch said. “It just has to do with the proper role of government. This is like an after-action review from my military days of what we do after we’ve been through an event. Let’s go back and make sure that we are making laws that allow us to be smarter the next time we do something like this.


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