STATE-CAPITOL-03032020-KS-029

DENVER, CO - MARCH12: Lobbyists, legislators, and visitors crowd the hallway between the House and Senate chambers. 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)

House Bill 1359, which provides extra time and flexibility to hold upcoming county assemblies and conventions, went from introduction to preliminary approval by the House in about five hours on Thursday.

The bill was introduced around 3 p.m., was in the House Judiciary Committee by 6 p.m., winning a unanimous vote to move forward, and on the floor of the House for second reading debate by just after 7:30 p.m. The House gave its preliminary approval with little debate just after 8 p.m. 

"We are faced with tough challenges and can come together in a bipartisan way," said bill co-sponsor House Minority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver.

The bill is in response to growing concerns over public health and a desire to avoid requiring party delegates to attend county assemblies that often draw hundreds of attendees. Gov. Jared Polis and public health officials have advised those over 60 and with chronic health conditions to avoid large public gatherings. Garnett said earlier Thursday that many of the delegates come from at-risk vulnerable populations — the over-60 crowd that has been advised to stay home. 

The bill gives county parties an extra 10 days to conduct their county assemblies, pushing that deadline to April 11. It also provides seven days (with the same deadline to complete it) for parties to conduct their assemblies through a mail ballot. 

Lawyers for the Democratic, Libertarian and Republican party testified to the work they did together to come up with the measure. There's still some issues not yet resolved, and not likely to be resolved through the bill, on how to do things like nominations form the floor, when there isn't a floor, if the assembly is held through the mail or even by electronic means. 

Those issues will have be dealt with by the parties through their rules processes, the attorneys said. 

During House debate, the bill was amended to give those who are petitioning onto the ballot an extra two weeks to complete that process. Another amendment made it clear that any decision to close large public gatherings is strictly under the authority of the governor, who is the only person allowed to declare a statewide disaster emergency. 

The timeline for providing notice on changes to locations, such as if a school that was to host a county assembly was closed, was reduced to a minimum of three days.

Another amendment also applied the same conditions to minor parties.The bill will be up for a final vote on Friday, and then on its way to the state Senate, which is expected to act just as quickly. 

The changes to the laws under HB 1359 expire on Dec. 31, 2020.

HB 1359 was the only bill the House worked on Thursday night, and the "committee of the whole" report, which affirms the results of the second reading debate, was approved on a 54 to 5 vote.

The need to get the bill passed quickly is tied in part to the potential that the General Assembly could put a pause on the 2020 session over concerns about COVID-19.

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