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Getty Images The U.S. and State flags fly at Denver’s Capital

The House on Wednesday voted to give final passage to four bills from the $800 million Colorado Recovery Plan stimulus package and initial approval to another, bringing the total number of stimulus bills to move forward in the General Assembly to 10.

After clearing the House Appropriations Committee and being given initial approval by the chamber on Tuesday, the House on Wednesday voted to approve:

  • House Bill 21-1271, which would put some $13 million into a trio of programs at the Department of Local Affairs aimed at fostering innovation in affordable housing. The bill from Reps. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, and Iman Jodeh, D-Aurora, passed on a 41-22 party-line vote.
  • House Bill 21-1270, which would give the Department of Human Services $3 million to seek a 50% match from the federal government for the Colorado Employment First Program within the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The bill from Reps. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs, and Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, won the support of one GOP lawmaker, Cheyenne Wells Republican Rep. Rod Pelton, in passing 42-21.
  • House Bill 21-1234, which aims to provide just under $5 million in grants to local education providers for high-impact tutoring to address learning loss brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill from Reps. Kerry Tipper, D-Lakewood, and Mary Bradfield, R-Colorado Springs, passed with broad bipartisan support on a 55-8 margin.
  • House Bill 21-1265, which would allow restaurants, bars, caterers and other food and beverage service providers to deduct up to $70,000 each month from state net taxable sales between June and August of this year. The bill from Reps. Kyle Mullica, D-Northglenn, and Kevin Van Winkle, R-Highlands Ranch, passed unanimously.

After voting to send those bills on to the Senate, House lawmakers also gave preliminary approval to a bill seeking to infuse $10 million into the state’s arts and film industries as well as cultural organizations. Debate on House Bill 21-1285 from metro Denver Democratic Reps. Leslie Herod and Adrienne Benavidez was not without controversy though.

The bill passed on a voice vote, but when it came time for the committee of the whole report, things got ugly.

Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, offered an amendment to the bill to reverse the House's action on an amendment offered by Pelton that would have added a petition clause to the bill.

During his discussion of the amendment, Holtorf began talking about military rules of engagement, in a manner that follows the Geneva Convention, where "you're not allowed to fire unless you're fired upon."

At that moment, Holtorf said to someone — it's not clear who, but it might have been Rep. David Ortiz, a Littleton Democrat and military veteran — "Don’t worry, buckwheat. I'm getting there. OK. Now what I'd like to say, what I'd like to say — that's an endearing term, by the way."

The term "buckwheat" often refers to a Black character in the Jim Crow-era "Little Rascals/Our Gang" serials of the 1920s and 1930s, and is now considered a racist stereotype. Holtorf told the Colorado Sun's Thy Anh Vo that he wasn't aware of the racial connotation. 

The chamber erupted in noise, with Rep. Tom Sullivan, a Centennial Democrat, yelling from the back of the chamber, although it wasn't clear what he was yelling.

Benavidez, who was then running the House in her role as Speaker Pro Tem, appeared to ask Holtorf to repeat what he said, and Herod told Holtorf to calm down, using a profanity.

After that incident, the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee convened and passed House Bill 21-1288. The measure from Reps. Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver, and Monica Duran, D-Wheat Ridge, would put $30 million into a startup loan program housed within the Office of Economic Development. The bill advanced on to the chamber’s Finance Committee on an 8-5 party-line vote.

Elsewhere under the Gold Dome on Wednesday, the Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 21-230. That measure would send $40 million in general funds to the Colorado Energy Office. Under the bill, the office would then send $30 million to its former Chief Operating Officer Paul Scharfenberger who now runs the Colorado Clean Energy Fund, which he set up while he was still in the state energy office.

The action has led to Republican accusations that the $30 million is a sweetheart deal, which in turn led to an amendment adding accountability measures. The bill now heads to the House.

A Senate panel on Wednesday also voted to advance a bill from Sens. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, and Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, that would put $30 million into a revolving loan program for ag infrastructure as well as farmers and ranchers.

Though both sponsors of Senate Bill 21-248 acknowledged they were early in the stakeholding process and the bill is subject to change as it works its way through the legislature, the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee voted unanimously to advance it.

Donovan spoke to the pressing need farmers and ranchers face, describing it as a “multi-front war” against COVID-19, drought, wildfires and labor shortages.

“It's important that we send a message with our state stimulus money that we are supporting and investing in ag, and the Colorado Agricultural Future Loan Program does just that,” she said. “It also makes a statement today that we are committed in the long-term success of ag.”

Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday voted to advance two other stimulus bills to the chamber for consideration.

The first of those, House Bill 21-1104 from Sens. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, and Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, seeks to extend the licensing period for educators from five to seven years. The second, Senate Bill 21-229 from Sens. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, and Tammy Story, D-Conifer, would put $3 million toward a rural jump-start zone grant program incentivizing businesses to open in rural locations.

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