opening day

The Colorado Senate convenes for the first day of the 2018 legislative session.

The Colorado General Assembly will not resume what’s left of its 120-day session on Monday, but how that will happen is still very much up in the air.

Just how long that second break — which began at the end of the 67th day, March 14 — will last is also undecided, according to Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo.

One issue is that the governor's March 10 declaration of a state of emergency expires after 30 days. The legislature's authority to adjourn due to a public health emergency also would end at that same time.

Under normal circumstances, lawmakers could come back on Monday and vote to adjourn for another period of time, but in this pandemic era, that’s something legislative leaders would like to avoid.

So one solution is to just allow the leadership to adjourn both chambers without a formal vote.

Before critics holler “Illegal!,” it’s probably not.

As Garcia explains it, majority leaders in the House and Senate do this routinely. For example, on days when the House or Senate is scheduled for a lot of committee work, but there are bills to be introduced, the majority leader will adjourn the chamber until later in the day, and tell members they don’t have to come back.

When that “later” pops up, once bills or reports are read across the desk, the majority leader will then adjourn the body until the next day. It happens every week.

The question is: Would that work for an extended recess? Maybe yes, maybe no.

The hitch is that the General Assembly cannot adjourn for more than three days without concurrence from both chambers. And that requires a vote. That’s the discussion members of the legislature's Executive Committee are working through this week.

“It’s not that we’re not getting along politically, or that things are clumsy and ineffective. We have to be within the Constitution,” said Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker. Adjourning without concurrence makes him nervous, he said.

What leaders want to avoid is asking legislators to come back, even enough for a quorum (18 in the Senate, 33 in the House) that would vote on another resolution of adjournment. As Holbert sees it, if lawmakers came back, so would everyone else: lobbyists, reporters and the public. That’s something nobody wants right now, he said.

For now, Garcia says his advice to members is to exercise caution and listen to public health officials. “We can’t be premature in acting too quickly,” he said, given that the impact could be significant. “We have to make sure people are safe,” that the General Assembly is doing what it can to “flatten the curve” and not to increase people’s exposure to the virus.

“We’ll get to the work that has to be done, whether that’s regular session or special session,” he said.

And that will be determined by the Colorado Supreme Court, which on Tuesday received six briefs on the issue of whether the session is 120 consecutive days or separate working days, as is designated under Joint Rule 44(g). Republican lawmakers and the right-leaning Independence Institute in Denver have taken the view that those 120 days are consecutive. Democrats and city and county officials, as well as public health officials, argue that under a public health emergency declared by the governor that a pause, as is granted under 44(g), is allowed.

Holbert says the decision about coming back on Monday is not a political one. “Does it make sense that we put people at risk by requiring them to show up next Monday? No!” he said.

The better option, he said, is “don’t be there.”

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