Holbert and Garcia March 30, 2020

Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker leads the morning prayer in a mostly-empty Senate chamber on Monday, March 30, 2020. 

Senate President Leroy Garcia of Pueblo presided over a chamber Monday morning where something happened that he said has never happened before in state history: a lack of a quorum to conduct its business.

Out of the 35 members, only 13 showed up, but that was by design. The lack of a quorum meant Garcia could dismiss the Senate for a few more days. The rules say no more than three days, but Garcia told Colorado Politics he believes there may be some flexibility in that.

"We should be listening to health care officials. We find ourselves in an unprecedented time... . We want to make sure we're not keeping people on a yo-yo," he said, adding that as soon as it's safe to be there, they'll come back.

Of those who showed up in the Senate, three were Democrats, including Garcia and Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg of Boulder. The other 10 were Republicans, and some came a pretty long way to be at the Capitol for a very short session on Monday. They came from Sterling, Montrose, Fountain, Greeley, Colorado Springs and Loveland. 

In the House, it was much of the same. Out of the eight House members, two, including House Majority Leader Alec Garnett of Denver, were Democrats. The other eight came from places as far away as Loveland and Colorado Springs. 

Garnett gaveled in the House, declared a lack of a quorum, and gaveled back out for three days. That adjournment will take them until Thursday.

Originally, legislative leaders toyed with the idea of adjourning until April 13, which is just after the end of the first 30-day state of emergency declared by Gov. Jared Polis.

Minority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker told Colorado Politics that there's two reasons for them to hold off on a recess until the 13th or beyond that.

The first is the decision from the Colorado Supreme Court on whether the General Assembly's 120-day calendar is consecutive days, or separate working days under a declared state of emergency. Both Garcia and Garnett said they're hopeful that they'll have an answer on that this week.

"If we don't have that guidance, [the remainder of the session] could look significantly different," Garcia said. The decision could result in changes to how the General Assembly pursues policy, not just on relief from the outbreak but on other legislative priorities , he said.

But more pressing that that, perhaps, is the potential that lawmakers may have to be nimble on their feet in the coming weeks as money from the $2 trillion federal COVID-19 relief package comes to Colorado.

Holbert said the state could be in for as much as $2.2 billion, and there's a lot of questions around that money as it applies to legislative work. Is that money that would be applied in the 2019-20 fiscal year, or would it be counted in the following fiscal year? 

The larger issue is likely to be that any money from that package spent by the state has to be appropriated by the General Assembly, Holbert pointed out. That means lawmakers have to be ready to come back pretty quickly once the amount of money and where it's going becomes clear.

"The legislature serves the role as appropriators," Holbert said, "and that contributed to the current format of adjourning day-to-day or until Thursday... Being away until April 13 was not as good as an idea."

Once they know what the state itself will receive, "it's a good reason to stay closer than not," Holbert said.

Several Republican legislators in both the House and Senate told Colorado Politics that they were elected by the people to do a job, and their job was to be at the Capitol on Monday, even if only for a little while.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling said that if "I don't show up today on behalf of my constituents, how can I tell all those people who are in essential jobs, [like] prison workers, 'you have to go to work but I don't?'

"I'll come up here, represent them and take the risk, just like they're taking the risk. Its important, the work they do. It's important that we figure out to handle this."

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