How COVID-19 will impact the Colorado legislature and how you can stay involved

By: Katie Belgard, Government Affairs Director

  • Colorado State Capitol Building

As our Colorado legislators respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re grateful that they’re prioritizing public health and the safety of our communities. At the same time, we’ve been investigating what will happen to bills that were in progress when the legislative session paused, and how we can continue the work to protect Colorado’s communities, water, open spaces, and wildlife. We’ve heard that many of you, our members, have had similar questions. 

Katie Belgard, Government Affairs Director

Katie Belgard, Government Affairs Director

Katie Belgard, Conservation Colorado’s government affairs director, provided her insights from her most recent conversations with legislators. We’re sharing that information directly with you, and giving you options to make a positive impact online as it fits with your life.

What changes happened to Colorado’s legislative session when social distancing went into effect?

Colorado’s legislative leaders and the entire body have taken the COVID-19 crisis seriously. As the crisis developed, leaders decided that – in the interest of public health and the safety of visitors, staff, and legislators – they would suspend the session on March 14th. That same day, Governor Jared Polis closed the Capitol building to the public. 

When the legislature suspended session for two weeks, legislators asked the Colorado Supreme Court to issue a ruling about the conditions under which the legislature could continue their work in the future. In normal circumstances, the legislature must do all of their business within the first 120 days of the year. Given the emergency order that Governor Polis issued, legislators hoped to have more time to be able to complete their business.

On April 1st, the Court released their decision that the legislative days do not have to be consecutive. That decision means that the legislature could continue to meet past May 6th in order to complete their important business for the year.

When can we expect to see the legislative session start back up?

At this point, it’s still unknown exactly when the legislature will come back into session. However, it’s important to know the budget for the State of Colorado must be completed by June 1st this year. That means it’s likely that the legislature will come back into session sometime in May to complete the budget, among a couple of other important agenda items.

What does this mean for bills that legislators have already introduced this session?

Legislative leadership has been incredibly clear that they are putting the health and safety of their members and the public first. And this may mean that some of Conservation Colorado’s agenda items won’t be able to pass this session. It’s still unclear what will happen to bills that have been already filed this session. Decisions to work on specific bills will be made on a case-by-case basis. However, unique to Colorado’s legislature is something called the GAVEL Amendment, a provision that requires that every bill that is filed is guaranteed a hearing and a vote. Once the legislature comes back into session, it’s unclear how the gavel rule will be applied. We’re working hard to ensure that as many of our priorities as possible make it over the finish line, while being realistic about the moment we’re in. 

It’s also important to note that, given the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 crisis, the legislature is grappling with major cuts to the state budget. That means that bills that have a fiscal note, meaning that they were going to cost the state some money, are unlikely to pass this session.

Are legislators going to introduce any new bills once they are back in session?

When the legislators come back into session, they could certainly file new bills. While each legislator can file five bills assigned to them by specific deadlines, legislative leadership has the ability to file additional bills after these deadlines. At this point, it seems most likely that any new bills that are filed are going to deal with issues related to COVID-19, the response to the pandemic, and the economic recovery. Our legislative leadership and Governor Polis have made it clear that these issues are top priorities.

What can I still do to help protect our communities, lands, air, and water?

Every year, there are bills that are unable to pass. Still, there’s hope for bills that don’t make the cut. When you’ve worked on a bill throughout the session like we are right now, even during this pause in session, what you do is you get your legislation, your policy priority, in tip-top shape to be taken up the next year. While some bills may not make it over the finish line this year, we are working now to build momentum and power to ensure that all our policy priorities are on track to be passed in the 2021 legislative session. 

Alongside our work to pass bills, there are other avenues to consider for advancing public policy. One essential pathway is to get involved with regulatory rulemakings, which continue at the Public Utility Commission and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Those are two places where we’re already engaged and will continue to do work – and where anyone can speak up by submitting a comment.

While the exact details of the future of each of our legislative priorities this session remain unclear, we know our legislators will be working to balance an appropriate response to COVID-19 while addressing their communities’ needs. Our job now is to keep up the momentum so legislators hear that their constituents (that’s all of us, Colorado!) are still prioritizing the protection of our communities, lands, air and water. 

In the same way that our legislators are seeking balance, it’s important to find ways to stay involved that fit in with our personal lives. The Conservation Colorado team has developed ways for you to make your voice heard from a distance, with different options depending on how much time and energy you want to devote right now. Despite uncertainty in the Colorado legislature, it’s clear that we need to protect Colorado and all who call our state home – now and for generations to come.