The 2021 legislative session is going to be overshadowed by COVID again this year. Within this shadow lies the opportunity to demonstrate the positive role of government during such times requiring stern and invasive public health policies and those policies’ direct impacts on small businesses and the resulting downstream economic stress on the individual. Balance will be required.
However, with a very hands-on governor, a new speaker, a new minority leader, and a big class of first-year representatives who may lean much more toward activism and much less toward cooperative policy making, I may welcome being an observer this year. I am concerned about the role for the few moderate policy makers remaining this year and the years to come.
On a practical note, the session will start Jan. 13, and everyone will be sworn in. With my being sworn in as a new county commissioner on the 12th, the day before, I will enjoy the rare opportunity of holding the elected positions of both county commissioner and state representative for over 24 hours.
As I understand it, the plans are to introduce only those bills that need an immediate impact and then the legislature will recess until approximately Feb. 16.
It’s not only the calendar that will be impacted by COVID, but it’s also the legislative agenda.
COVID’s arrival during the 2020 session was also disruptive, resulting in one of the few mid-session recesses ever and new rules to allow for this recess. Many bills that were introduced last year, during the 2020 session pre-COVID, were postponed indefinitely or killed if they didn’t have to do with immediate COVID impact. I had some really important bills on the calendar. Bills like implementing a Safe Transport system for mental health crises, or extending the Children’s Trust Fund board, or defining nursing home property tax as a residential tax — all were killed. There are many 2020 bills in the queue for the 2021 session — that may need to be pushed out to the 2022 session.
Legislators are getting antsy about introducing bills that will implement critically needed reforms in the areas of taxes, criminal justice, health care and education reform. After all, the Dems are in the majority in both chambers and the Governor’s Office ,and it’s the time to capture opportunities to bring reform measures to Colorado.
The question for both parties is whether they will overstep. Pre-session activities, including the special session and the audit committee unprecedented election integrity hearing, saw the Republicans jumping into the drama of masks and election fraud and reporter DOXXing. A new minority leader could be the opportunity to find balance, and not overstep. The question for Democrats or, one might argue, the potential opportunity for Republicans will be a singular one: will the Democrats overstep? Having the trifecta of the House, Senate and governorship does not leave anyone to blame but the party holding those positions. With a strong governor and activist-tending legislature, the reach for reforms suggests the possibility is high.
Things could look much different in 2022. Vaccinations should be showing their effectiveness, restaurants will be open again, revenues should be up and normalcy returning — but the memory of the invasive public policies seen as necessary in 2020 may be perceived as too heavy handed by many voters in 2022.
Remember, the wartime hero Winston Churchill of 1941 to 1944 was not re-elected by a more relaxed British voter in 1945.
Tracy Kraft-Tharp has represented House District 29 in the Colorado House since 2013 and will relinquish her seat due to term limits this week. She was elected to the Jefferson County Commission last Nov. 3.