DENVER, CO - MARCH12: Hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes stand close to the snacks set out for members of the Senate. The Colorado General Assembly works through their regular session schedule at the Colorado State Capitol on March 12, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo By Kathryn Scott)

The bill granting more time to county assemblies to conduct their election business went from a 52-9 vote in the House on Friday to preliminary approval by the state Senate by close of business later in the day.

House Bill 1359, the bill adjusting deadlines and other provisions for the upcoming county assemblies, passed the House Friday morning.

Among the voices against the bill in the House prior to its final vote was Rep. Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, who said that he understands the haste in which the measure is moving. That said, he objected to the bill’s provision on extending the deadlines for submitting petitions, which is set for March 17. The bill gives those gathering petitions another two weeks.

Rep. Tim Geitner, R-Colorado Springs, said the haste also has kept people such as county party chairs from giving their opinions. “I understand what we’re trying to do,” Geitner said, but “this impacts the way we do business in Colorado,” and he would prefer to have more deliberation from the public.

HB 1359 went from introduction to final passage in just over 19 hours. The reason for the speed is not only that county political assemblies are starting this weekend, although the bill won’t be signed into law before those first meetings take place; assemblies meeting this Saturday are in small, rural counties. It’s the larger county assemblies, which can draw hundreds, and in Denver more than 1,000, that the bill is designed to help.

There’s also the issue of getting the bill done before the General Assembly can temporarily pause the 2020 session, which will take place Saturday.

To demonstrate how fast things are moving: in between when the bill was introduced in the House at 3 p.m. Thursday and heard by the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee at 3:25 p.m. Friday, the state:

  • Announced 28 new presumed positive cases; 
  • One of those new cases, a woman in her 80s in El Paso County, became the first death in Colorado from COVID-19;
  • Gov. Jared Polis ordered a ban on events of more than 250 people, unless the venue can demonstrate it can enact “social distancing,” meaning they can keep people 6 to 8 feet apart; and 
  • Announced enhanced testing capabilities, including another mobile lab in Pitkin County, considered one of the state's virus "hot spots."

The State Affairs Committee made quick work of HB 1359 Friday afternoon, eliminating a provision in the original bill that allowed more time for candidates to gather petitions to get on the ballot. 

The bill was amended to say that any signature collected after the March 17 deadline would not be counted. Five Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate are hoping to qualify for the ballot through petition: former Gov. John Hickenlooper, Lorena Garcia, Diana Bray, Michelle Ferrigno Warren and David Goldfischer. Only Hickenlooper has turned in petitions as of Friday.

On the issue of vacancy committee meetings, the original bill said it would be up to the party on whether to allow proxies; the bill as amended by the Senate said proxies could only be allowed for persons who are physically present at the meeting, forbidding someone who participates electronically to carry proxies. 

House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver, one of the bill's co-sponsors, said he did not think there would be any issues for the House with those amendments. As to the changes around petitions, he said the bill is intended to prevent large gatherings of delegates, including those delegates over the age of 60 who fit into high-risk populations. The concern became whether the legislature was incentivizing behavior that would increase social contact, which conflicts with the bill's original intent.

The Senate quickly gave preliminary approval for HB 1359. It will get its final vote on Saturday.

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