The 73rd Colorado General Assembly is in session. Well maybe. On Jan. 13 at 10 a.m., the session was called to order, roll call was taken, we heard the usual opening-day speeches from the majority and minority leaders, and bills were introduced.
It sounded like any opening day. The audio was normal, but perhaps a little muffled; the visual was different. Members wore masks, practiced a little more separation and of course, we had plastic shields between our desks.
But opening day 2021 was far more like a special session than the beginning of the 120-day normal session. The object was to start the session as required by the Constitution, pass the half-dozen or so necessary bills, then recess to Feb. 16 or a date to be determined. A bill dealing with financial relief for small businesses, allowing political parties to meet remotely, and legislative procedures during a disaster took up the bulk of the time.
Spirited debate on Joint Rule 44 was the only contested discussion. With one party in control of both chambers, minority members felt left out in the process. This significant rule was created without any input from the minority party. In my 10 years in the General Assembly, I have never heard of such. The minority party only had about 36 hours prior to its introduction, to review what changes were made to the rules.
We have operated under temporary rules in all the time I have been in the General Assembly. I have been told that this may have been happening since the 1980s. This was a prime example of “moving the goal posts.”
I would hope this never happens again. The minority party, whether Republican or Democrat, should be at the table. I understand that the minority gets its say and the majority gets its way, but at least in that case the minority is on the record. Rule 44 passed on a party-line vote. This was not a good tone to set for a new session. I hope it’s a “lesson learned” and the General Assembly can proceed to do the people’s business and refrain from party politics.
The hard-luck bill of the 72nd General Assembly was finally resolved. As you recall, the second half of the 72nd General Assembly was an abbreviated session, just as the beginning of the 73rd is now. A sunset bill in regard to the licensure of occupational therapists was introduced in the previous session. This was the beginning of “three strikes.” From drafting, introduction and final passage a lot of time passed.
The problem was the bill had a petition clause rather than a safety clause. A safety clause bill becomes law on the signature of the governor. A petition clause allows 90 days for the general public to petition it to go to the ballot box to decide if it becomes law. If no petition is filed, it becomes law on the 90th day. The election was too close to allow the 90 days for the public to exercise this right. Legal services said that is probably OK, but the revisor of statutes said it wasn’t. It will not be going into statute.
On Nov. 30 the Governor called us back to a Special Session to deal with COVID-19 issues. The occupational therapists’ bill was again introduced. Sorry! The Senate Finance Committee killed the bill because it did not meet the requirements of the call of the governor.
Lo and behold, on the third try, the Occupational Therapists Act passes and is signed by the governor.
Folks, you just can’t make this up: Government at its best.
On the opening day of the 2021 session, I found a black mask on my desk with the insignia of the State Capitol. I chose to wear it upside down. A ship a sea when in distress flies the flag upside down.
I am writing this article on Inauguration Day. Our state and our nation are in distress. A house divided cannot stand. We are the United States of America, not the Divided States of America. We have allowed the divisive factors from both political parties to nearly destroyed the greatest nation in the world. We are better than that.
Sen. Don Coram is a Republican representing District 6 of the Colorado General Assembly.