Democratic leaders in the General Assembly on Wednesday took a victory lap, touting their legislative accomplishments during what they repeatedly described as a “historic” session.
“We did the best we could with the information that we had last year, but history really made us,” House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver, told reporters. "But if you look at what we've accomplished this session, I'm really proud of the work that we got done. I think this is one of the most historic sessions that I can remember and we clearly made history this year.”
Those comments came while speaking at a news conference along with Senate President Leroy Garcia, Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg and House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar. The quartet alternated between praising their members and hailing various aspects of the hefty agenda of Democratic priorities that cleared the legislative process and landed on Gov. Jared Polis’ desk this session.
Garnett pointed to efforts to lower healthcare and prescription drug costs. Garcia, D-Pueblo, highlighted “transformational infrastructure investments” that the state will see in the form of a $5.4 billion transportation funding package. Esgar, D-Pueblo, emphasized the state stimulus package, including the first significant sum of money directed to the so-called just transition effort to help communities whose economies are powered by coal.
Fenberg highlighted many of those elements and also pointed to legislation on climate change. But he said he was most proud of the way his members stood up to challenges brought by the session.
“We had challenges that probably no other legislature has faced and we met those challenges in a way that wasn't just about getting us through the few months or getting us through a year or responding specifically to the crisis at hand, but doing it in a way that actually prepares us to better weather the storms that are still ahead,” he said.
They also noted that the legacy of the 2021 legislative session would live on, both legislatively and in some of the ways the General Assembly operates. Esgar, for instance, said she was keen on continuing the practice of remote testimony at committee hearings, one of the measures adopted more broadly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was actually really excited to see how well I feel like it turned out for not only the people of Colorado, but the committees that were hearing those witnesses,” Esgar said.
“As somebody who was a community organizer before I came to the legislature who tried to organize people who didn't live in Denver to be able to come up to the Capitol, take an entire day off to come up and testify, I really see how this opened it up to a more transparent way to make sure that all people across Colorado have the ability to be able to be involved in the crafting of legislation.”
Quizzed on some of the larger bills that were tripped up ahead of reaching the finish line – like efforts from Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, on workplace anti-discrimination and harassment and Sen. Pete Lee on arrest and bond provisions for low-level crimes – Garcia said Winter and Lee were “extremely optimistic by a lot of progress that happened this year.”
“Several of these policies take years in formation and that's not always a bad thing, I think we should look at that as a healthy thing to the democratic process,” he said. “I think you'll continue to see those conversations advance as we go into the next year.”
To that point, Garnett highlighted the multi-year negotiations that took place to get the Colorado Option legislation in a place where it could clear the General Assembly.
“That took years – three, four, two years to get across the finish line and so there are always those proposals that might not make it through in year one, but come back in an even stronger place in year two,” he said.
Fenberg and Garnett also gave a glimpse into some of the legislative work the leaders are planning for the interim. The pair said they anticipated interim committees examining affordable housing, homelessness, mental health and economic relief, with the Boulder Democrat indicating they would be formed “very soon.”
“We're going to have those conversations in the interim – there'll be public meetings ... and then come January, we're going to take action on those ideas and invest that money in a way that's going to pay off the best for the most Coloradans,” Fenberg said.
House and Senate Republicans plan to hold a joint press availability on Thursday at 10 a.m.