Colorado lawmakers on Monday night wrapped up their work for the year after tackling sweeping legislation in several areas, notably property taxes, guns and abortion, following four months of sometimes tumultuous sessions and marathon meetings punctuated by filibusters and a walkout.

Democrats portrayed this year's session as having delivered "real results" on issues that matter most to Coloradans, citing proposals they say would address high cost of living, protect abortion rights, and reduce gun violence.

Republicans, on the other hand, accused the Democratic majority of "bullying" the minority for 120 days and refusing them a seat at the table.

Democrats said the session produced legislation to curb housing costs, noting, among other things, the proposal to redirect a portion of TABOR refunds toward property tax relief; save people money on health care by permitting, for example, the Prescription Drug Affordability Board to review more prescription drugs whose prices could be capped; and, reduce utility costs, such as by making several changes to the regulation of Colorado's investor-owned electricity and natural gas providers. 

In a rare defeat for Gov. Jared Polis, the General Assembly effectively rejected his housing proposal — which, as originally introduced, sought to impose state mandates and effectively strip local governments of their authority over land use and zoning. The measure died after all-day negotiations failed to find a compromise between the Senate and House versions. The bill’s failure marks the biggest defeat for Polis, who has been able to persuade the General Assembly’s Democrats to support his major policy proposals every year since he took office in January 2019.

Abortion, guns, housing and property taxes consumed lawmakers' energy for much of the session, the debates of which often lasted late into the night and sometimes resulted in acrimony between the parties and within the caucuses. 

With a supermajority in the House and expanded number in the Senate, Democrats approved a slew of gun proposals they say would reduce violence, including repealing a state law that barred gun victims from suing firearms manufacturers and dealers, as well as increasing the minimum age for purchasing a firearm from 18 to 21, with limited exceptions. 

They also championed legislation to expand the state’s Extreme Risk Protection Order, known as the red flag law, by allowing district attorneys, higher education faculty and school teachers, as well as mental health or medical professionals to seek red flag petitions that would remove firearms from someone deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

Finally, they approved legislation that creates a three-day waiting period for delivery of firearm after purchase.

Democrats also passed bills to shield abortion patients and providers from interstate investigations, expand insurance coverage for abortion, and prohibit what supporters call "deceptive" advertising from crisis pregnancy centers. 

“From improving public education with a record investment in our schools, teachers and students, to reducing the cost of health care and prescription drugs, this session delivered real results on the issues that matter most to Coloradans,” House Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, said in news release. “The legislation we passed will protect access to abortion, support our workforce and save people money on housing. I’m proud of our work to boost rural economies, protect our water future, and pass bipartisan legislation that will uplift people all across our state and help everyone reach their Colorado dream.”

“Coloradans demanded bold action on the issues that matter most to them, and this session we delivered,” Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, said. “From passing landmark gun violence prevention laws and working to lower your energy bills, to improving our gold standard elections and taking action to lower property tax bills for families and businesses, we fought tirelessly this session to make a real difference in our communities and for the people who make this state great.”

In a statement, House Republicans said the Democrats bullied them.

“For 120 days, our minority caucus came to the House Chamber with the intention of collaborating despite not having a seat at the table and being told to wait outside while real decisions were being made inside," Minority Leader Mike Lynch, R-Wellington, said. "Invoking rarely — if ever — used rules doesn’t just silence us, it takes away the opportunity for the people we represent to hear what we have to say."

Lynch issued the statement after House Republicans — angered by what they described as the bill’s attempt to bribe Coloradans to vote for the ballot measure — walked out of the chamber to protest against a proposal that would ask voters in November to allow for permission to raise what’s called the Referendum C cap by 1% and keep that additional revenue for a 10-year period. The proposal, if approved, would generate about $167 million per year, which, in turn, would be funneled to local governments to hold them harmless from reductions in property tax revenue.

The legislation is the Democrats’ response to skyrocketing property taxes, due in part to the voter-backed repeal of the Gallagher Amendment in 2020 and rising home values, with some counties reporting increases of 50%, raising worries that many, particularly older Coloradans on fixed income, would get priced out of their homes.

By walking out, Lynch said, Republicans "sent a message to the majority, who are mostly Metro area Democrats, that our state includes much more than the concrete and steel parts of Colorado. Our voices - that fill the Front Range and the Western Slope — deserve to have their votes counted these last 120 days." 

An award-winning journalist, Luige serves as editor of Colorado Politics and The Denver Gazette. He previously covered politics in Arizona and wrote about national security in the Philippines, where he began his career in journalism.  

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