Another legislative session in the books

Column by Greg Romberg
Posted 6/23/21

The 2021 session of the Colorado General Assembly adjourned June 8, completing a session in which majority Democrats utilized their significant majority by passing most elements of an ambitious …

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Another legislative session in the books

Posted

The 2021 session of the Colorado General Assembly adjourned June 8, completing a session in which majority Democrats utilized their significant majority by passing most elements of an ambitious agenda.

Among those priorities were a transportation funding plan that will invest $5 billion over the next 10 years, tax policy changes that will eliminate or lessen tax exemptions for a large variety of businesses and industries, requirements for health insurance providers to offer products at lower rates, a series of gun control measures, police reform and criminal justice initiatives, data privacy, school finance and climate change.

Bills to limit crimes for which suspects could be jailed and to make it easier for employees to sue their employers for sexual harassment or discrimination failed in the closing hours of the session.

The session was unique in that it featured a month-long recess to address concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. There was also limited access to the State Capitol that changed the ways in which the public was able to participate in and influence legislative action.

That recess provided lawmakers with extra time after the budget was adopted to focus on a large number of issues that typically would not be addressed in the closing days of a legislative session. Legislators made draconian cuts to the state’s budget in 2020 because of revenue estimates that the pandemic would decimate the state’s budget.

The economy rebounded much more quickly than expected and higher state tax revenues, coupled with federal stimulus assistance, provided for large increases in state spending and significant increases to the state’s budget reserve.

There were significant differences between the House and Senate as to how partisan differences played out. The Senate acted in a largely collegial fashion and found ways to work in which the state budget and significant police reform passed with large bipartisan majorities. Conversely, Republicans in the House utilized a much more obstructionist strategy, voting as a block against a wider variety of issues and exercising delaying tactics that slowed down the process but did little or nothing to effect final outcomes.

And now the dance around how the public will view legislative actions begins in earnest. With eyes firmly on 2022 elections, Democrats will characterize legislative achievements as promises made and promises delivered while Republicans will portray it as an overreach that resulted in an extreme agenda out of touch with the beliefs of most Coloradans.

It’s clear that the most progressive Democrats and most conservative Republicans will agree with their parties’ spin. It’s less clear how more moderate members of both parties and unaffiliated voters will view things.

2022 election results will be impacted additionally by how redistricting lines drawn by the newly established independent commission works out. Most current legislative districts are not particularly competitive. To the extent possible, a legal responsibility of the commission is to make districts competitive. It will be in those truly competitive districts that we’ll see how Coloradans view the legislature’s work.

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie.

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