Becker, Neville on Supreme Court resolution

House Minority Leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock and Speaker of the House KC Becker of Boulder discuss the resolution asking the Supreme Court to address a constitutional question around the 120-day calendar. Courtesy Colorado Channel.

Speaker of the House KC Becker, D-Boulder, isn't quite ready to say "no" to a paid family and medical leave bill in what's left of the 2020 legislative session.

Becker and House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver, spoke to reporters via phone Wednesday on how they're planning for lawmakers' work when they return.

The General Assembly adjourned Saturday and is scheduled to come back on March 30, but Becker said Wednesday that could be just to "gavel in and gavel back out" for an undetermined amount of time.

Much rides on the opinion of the Colorado Supreme Court, which announced Monday it would look at questions submitted by the General Assembly about whether its 120-day calendar is consecutive or separate working days. The difference is due to a joint rule, enacted only in times of a public health emergency, that would allow lawmakers to pause the session until it's safe to come back. 

On Monday, state economists delivered a boatload of bad news about the economy and about future state revenues: instead of the $832 million they had hoped to add to the 2020-21 budget, it's more like $27.3 million. That's not even enough to cover mandated increases in costs due to inflation. Becker said budget cuts may be in the wings, and she wouldn't rule out the possibility that cuts could be coming to K-12 education through increasing the budget stabilization factor.. That's the debt owed to public schools that started at $1 billion in 2012. Lawmakers and governors have whittled it down to $572.4 million. Gov. Jared Polis had proposed another $52 million payment in his 2020-21 budget but Joint Budget Committee members indicated Monday that's now unlikely to happen.

Existing legislation with costs may have to be revisited because of the revenue forecast, Becker said. "The budget situation today is very different" from the one in January, and that means new programs, grants and other spending that isn't immediately tied to the pandemic are not likely to happen.

The exception, she said, could be the paid family and medical leave bill. That's a long-time top priority for legislative Democrats, although the bill hasn't been introduced yet.

Becker also wouldn't rule out dropping the public option bill, which would enact price caps on hospital services. But she said they're hearing from hospitals that they have enough to deal with right now. Although the cost to implement the bill is less than the savings it would produce, "we recognize it comes at a very tough time for hospitals:" that are dealing with the pandemic, she said. That said, reducing health care costs for consumers is still "absolutely" a priority.

One 2020 bill that may have to be revisited when lawmakers come back is Senate Bill 91, which increases the minimum pay for Colorado National Guard members. Gov. Jared Polis signed that bill Wednesday, but its enactment date isn't until August 6. Polis has called out the National Guard to help with the COVID-19 pandemic. Becker said lawmakers should move up the effective date of the bill. 

As to what lawmakers might do about the pandemic and the economic crisis, Becker said they're waiting to see what the federal government does and how the General Assembly might fill in the gaps. But that depends on actions that won't cost money. Becker said they're also expecting ideas from business groups on what the state could do.

Updated to note that Polis signed SB91 into law on Wednesday.

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