Jimmy’s Denver Gazette Column | Colorado struggles while legislature takes a break

Written by on January 15, 2021

Today, the General Assembly is gaveling in for the third and final day of the “first part” of its legislative session before it adjourns until a likely February 16 return. In truth, Coloradans of all stripes should feel embarrassed by its legislative leadership’s failure to meet its constitutional duties and do the people’s business in a timely fashion.

Right now, amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, business owners – and especially restauranteurs – are wondering how they will make payroll this month after enduring more severe restrictions for two months, even as they finally ease anew. Will the rules and the goalposts change again? So, too, are many Coloradans wondering how they will make ends meet after losing their jobs or having their wages cut.

The state’s vaccine rollout is botched. Gov. Jared Polis’s plan has undergone three or four different iterations, causing deep confusion and public cries of frustration and irritation – especially among educators and senior citizens.

Coloradans are asking why one man – Polis – still gets to decide which businesses are open, which activities we can engage in and whether the COVID metrics should be changed or ignored at will.

One could argue that, early on in the pandemic, people were looking for decisive action and the legislature couldn’t necessarily provide guidance under law. Fine. But then the General Assembly met in a December special session. Still, they refused to take the reins.

And now, the State House and Senate just returned for their annual 120-day session, gaveled in, are going at it for three days and passing a few bills and…stop! Time to go home.

Legislators are telling the people of Colorado that it’s time to wait another month – “because, COVID.” Then will they go back to work. Maybe, anyway. They’ve got to “play it by ear” on when they’ll return, you see. So says Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg of Boulder. And who knows what they will even accomplish then? As one friend put it, “What a freaking waste!”

The Colorado Constitution is clear: The General Assembly is required to convene no later than the second Wednesday in January. It’s supposed to run for 120 days straight and then, sine die – it’s over until next January. But selectively, legislators aren’t doing their jobs and are only taking on important legislative business on their terms and schedule.

What’s striking is how legislators have been getting vaccinations this week if they so choose, making it safer and easier for them to go about life. Great, I’m all for it: Let all 100 legislators and even their staffs get the vaccine.

But how many workers are (a) fortunate enough to have jobs, (b) able to access vaccinations and © then still put their responsibilities on hold for a month?

When the legislature will return is not the only open question; they’ve also left open-ended how long it’ll run. Last year, the Colorado Supreme Court backed Democrats’ unofficial revision of the state Constitution. Despite the actual text of the Constitution, it was decreed that the 120-calendar day limit to the General Assembly is malleable and need not be consecutive. Thus, the legislature can effectively return and adjourn at its will. It’s the only way they can get away with what they’re doing today.

Promisingly, Fenberg indicated that they might not even take up the full 120 days. “We will stay as long as we need to stay,” he said. “That could be 100 days or 120 days.”

Given the sheer number of issues facing Colorado right now – from COVID-19 to the economic malaise to rising healthcare costs to budgets and much more – it’s revealing that the Democratic leader in the Senate would suggest that the legislature might not need the full 120 days. So, why don’t we amend the Constitution to limit the legislature to 100 days permanently, keeping the damage they can do in greater check? Just a thought.

For the better part of a year, our state senators and representatives have refused take their own legislative authority back from Gov. Polis. Now they refuse to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and they are already about to take a break while Coloradans suffer.

To the members of the General Assembly: On behalf of Coloradans everywhere, get your vaccinations if you want one, take your seat in the Capitol and do your damn job.

That’s what we sent you there to do, isn’t it?

Click here to read the rest of Jimmy’s January 15 column at Denver Gazette, a sister publication of The Washington Examiner.

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