The leaders of the Colorado General Assembly offered a resolution Friday to adjourn the legislature for two weeks, beginning after Saturday's session. Lawmakers would return at 10 a.m. on March 30, according to the resolution.
The resolution will start in the House, and will be sponsored by Speaker of the House KC Becker and House Minority Leader Patrick Neville. The leadership in the Senate will sponsor the resolution once it reaches the Senate.
"In light of the rapidly spreading coronavirus, this is the most appropriate decision for the legislature to take," said House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver. "I appreciate the bipartisan conversations around this issue."
A second resolution asks the Colorado Supreme Court to examine a constitutional question about the 120-day calendar. The state Constitution says the General Assembly shall meet for 120 days, and that's been interpreted as consecutive days.
The resolution asks if the General Assembly, under its Joint Rule 44(g), can meet for non-consecutive days under a declared disaster emergency. That would allow the legislature to pause the session on Saturday, which is day 67, and then March 30 would be day 68.
Otherwise, the 120-day clock keeps running and they would lose about two weeks, assuming they don't need to extend that recess any longer.
Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, told Colorado Politics this week that extending the session past May 6 could put any bills passed at that time or later at risk for a lawsuit challenging those measures' constitutionality. He supports asking the Court to clarify the issue.
That matters at a time when lawmakers are heading into the most active weeks of the session, when they consider the state budget, the school finance act and 21 sunset bills that keep certain state programs and occupational licensure regulations going. The legislature's budget also isn't completed, and neither is a bill that puts into statute rules passed by executive agencies during 2019, although Senate leaders said Friday the rule review bill should be done by close of business Saturday.
In a week, there can be thousands of people in the Capitol, Becker said. "By continuing on, we don't want to limit public access, but continuing could put a lot of people at risk."
Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, added that normally, "we wouldn't be asking the courts to weigh in on legislative procedures and practices," but this is needed to figure out the next steps.
"This is not a political discussion," Holbert said. "This is not about trying to run down the clock or trying to get to the 120th day.This is about doing the right thing for the people of Colorado.
"They come come here because the legislators are here and they want to advocate for or against legislation. If we're not here, there's not a reason for them to come. And that's a better solution than limiting access to the Capitol for the public."
There are many bills that have to be passed, Becker said, such as legislation that draws down federal funds and others that affect the state budget. "But right now, it's prudent to take a pause to give time to everyone" to take care of themselves and their families, and for the legislature to figure out its next steps.
The committee also waived the rules around deadlines for the state budget, the Long Appropriations Bill; and the School Finance Act. The Long Bill was supposed to be introduced on March 23, but between the legislature's adjournment and what could happen on Monday with revenue forecasts, the Joint Budget Committee will need more time to finish their work on the budget.
They will continue to meet in public session during the two-week pause to complete that work, the leaders said.
In a news conference after the executive committee meeting, House and Senate Democratic leaders spoke to reporters about next steps, with the biggest dealing with the state budget. There are more than 350 bills still in the process, Becker said, many with costs. "We need a clearer budget picture on a lot of things."
The General Assembly does have another option to extend its working time: the governor could call a special session. But leaders indicated they prefer to set their own agenda; a special session would allow the governor to decide what they would work on.
"We are elected to represent the people and to set an agenda," Becker said.
Legislators will continue to work with stakeholders and on their priorities during the two-week timeout, Garcia said.
Lawmakers will convene on Saturday at 9 a.m. for the last day before adjournment.
This story has been updated to include the resolutions, which were introduced on Friday.