COVID-19 is a real threat here in Colorado, the U.S. and the world. The last major pandemic in the U.S. occurred from April 2009 until April 2010, when A/H1N1 (the Swine Flu) came to the U.S. via Mexico.
The U.S. recorded 60.8 million cases, 274,000 hospitalizations and 12,469 deaths due to the virus. World-wide, 700 million to 1.4 billion cases resulted in 150,000 to 575,000 deaths.
Oct. 24, 2009, President Obama declared the Swine Flu a national emergency. Initially, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommended schools close for as long as two weeks.
However, by May 5, the CDC retracted its advice. The State Department recommended U.S. citizens avoid nonessential travel to Mexico.
Fast forward to the COVID-19 pandemic which has closed schools, closed businesses, limited social events, limited travel, closed borders and created a run on toilet paper and hand sanitizer. What a difference a decade makes.
Being a State Representative automatically makes you a part of history, but the past two weeks have amplified that role due to the coronavirus crisis. The State Legislature took some historical steps as well in response to COVID-19.
Because the Legislature is mandated by law to be in session for 120 consecutive days, shutting down the operation is not as simple as closing the doors and turning off the lights.
There are several steps to the process. Since this type of shutdown had never occurred (at least in modern history), there were several “ts” to cross and “is” to dot. The first step was HB 20-1359 (Ballot Access Modifications Public Health Concerns).
Because the shutdowns and delays directly impacted the election process, a bill was needed to alter deadlines. In a nutshell, due to the fact we are in the process of party caucuses, petitioning onto ballots and county and state political assemblies, passing HB 20-1359 was necessary to allow flexibility and accommodation. The bill was put together by Republican and Democrat leadership from both chambers.
While the state and nation were shutting down schools, events and limiting public gatherings, the Colorado Legislature just kept going about its business. Eventually, a light came on, “Could we be putting elected officials at risk while serving as an incubator for COVID-19?”
Well, the obvious answer was a resounding “Duh.” (example Representative Michaelson-Jenet is now testing positive).
We were called in on Saturday to consider two resolutions which would enable the Legislative Session to be suspended.
Senate and House leadership developed HJR (House Joint Resolution) 20-1006 and HJR 20-1007. The first resolution was (HJR 20-1006) “Concerning a request to the Supreme Court of the State of Colorado to render its opinion upon a question regarding section seven of article five of the state constitution.”
For us common folks, those words mean, “Please tell us if what we are doing is OK in terms of interrupting the 120 continuous day session, do we have to extend the session to aggregate a total of 120 days, and will the bills we pass after the May 6 adjournment date be legal?” Just a few minor concerns.
The second resolution was (HJR 20-1007) “Concerning a temporary adjustment of the Second Regular Session of the Seventy-second General Assembly to a day certain.”
The Reader’s Digest version of this resolution was, “We believe we have the authority to adjourn for two weeks while the COVID-19 tsunami passes over.”
The question remains, can we really? There is a downside to temporary adjournment. We cannot pass legislation to help impacted Colorado citizens if we are not in session.
Both resolutions passed and legislators returned home to join their constituents in a state of semi-isolation, interspersed with frantic searches for hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Without, of course, any political handshakes of chapped hands from those frequent-20-second hand washings.
So, what does the future hold? I am glad you asked, but I have no answer. Ultimately, a lot depends upon the results of the aforementioned Supreme Court interrogatory (briefs are due May 24). The Court will, hopefully, give us some direction as to what we can and cannot do in terms of the 120 day session.
Even though there were over 564 bills to consider, we only have to act on two: 1) approve a balanced state budget, and 2) pass a school funding bill. Ironically, neither of the two bills have even been drafted. Since we are dealing with a state budget of over $30 billion and K-12 funding making up over $7 billion of the state budget, those two bills are kind of big deals.
Currently, the lights are on but nobody is home under the Golden Dome. You are always welcome here at the Capitol, just be sure to call ahead during the COVID-19 crisis.