COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The COVID-19 pandemic brought a busy legislative session for lawmakers as they worked to try to allocate federal funding to help the state recover. On Tuesday, Sept. 7, 169 bills were passed and signed by Governor Jared Polis into law, with many having nothing to do with COVID-19.
“Some laws make take months or years to know the true impact”, according to Joshua Dunn, Ph.D, director of the Chair of the Department of Political Science and director of the Center for the Study of Government at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.
“The biggest thing I like to keep in mind is, sometimes we have to wait to see what the effect of these laws will actually be,” Dunn said.
For some bills the intention, and very likely, the outcome is clear.
House Bill 21-1108 added gender identity and gender expression to the state’s discrimination protections.
Senate Bill 21-078 will now require gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms within five days or face a $25 fine (which will increase for repeat violations).
This bill adds to three other gun regulations that include safe storage requirements and allowing municipalities to create additional restrictions.
“Firearms legislation has led, in the past, to some blowback by voters,” Dunn said, “I don’t know if these particular laws will generate significant pushback.”
In 2013, two lawmakers were recalled on the basis of voting to support universal background check legislation. In 2018, Colorado lawmakers passed the Extreme Risk Protection Order Regulation which allows a person’s firearms to be confiscated if a judge rules a person close to them has a reasonable concern for the owner’s safety or that of others. No recalls were successful following that legislation.
Other bills passed with bipartisan support, such as ensuring a diverse educator workforce (21-1010) and ensuring nominees to state boards from the Governor are diverse (21-1212).
Lawmakers took swings at increasing affordable housing opportunties by allowing local governments more freedoms to promote those projects (21-1117).
Climate change also remained a focus under the Golden Dome with 21-1286 requiring large building owners to increase energy efficiency and 21-1303 tasking the Office of the State Architect and Office of Transportation to create limits on how much some building materials can be used if they contribute to global warming.
“You could see how some of them might work at cross-purposes,” Dunn said. “How the attempt to create more affordable housing might be undermined if some of the other legislation is going to increase the cost of construction.”
Another bill passing on party lines creates the Immigrant Legal Defense Fund which will award grants to organizations that help immigrants through the legal process of becoming a U.S. citizen.
This is the kind of bill that has become common in the three years since Democrats took control of the State Senate, State House and Governor’s office.
This was the first sweep for Democrats since the 1930s. With Republicans facing their second try at unseating the trifecta in 2022, this sweep puts pressure on the minority party.
“Right now I think you have to say that Colorado is a blue state, and unless Republicans can do something about putting forward some more compelling candidates for statewide offices, that’s going to remain the case,” Dunn said.
Re-districting of the State House and State Senate seats are slated to go into effect prior to the 2022 election, and while the process is unlikely to swing the balance of power in the state, Dunn sees the State Senate as the most likely option for Republicans to flip.