An activist group that disrupted Gov. Jared Polis’ State of the State address on Jan. 9 said 38 members who were arrested that day won’t face charges.
The decision was made by District Attorney Beth McCann and announced by the group, called Extinction Rebellion, Saturday evening.
The group wants the environmentally friendly governor to be more aggressive in shutting down oil and gas operations and fighting climate change and said it wouldn’t stop pushing its cause.
They specifically want a stop to drilling operations near the Bella Romero Academy, an elementary school in Greeley mostly populated by low-income, minority students.
Those who were arrested are going by the nickname the Capitol 38, according to the press release.
“The criminalization of dissent and protest indicates that our so-called leaders have ceded power to the O&G industry in Colorado,” Maryah Lauer, one of the arrested protesters, said in the statement. “We the people are taking that power back, and we will not allow children to be sacrificed for profit. It’s time for sincere climate action from Governor Polis, which should start by ending the fracking operation at Bella Romero.”
Colorado Public Radio reported McCann's decision on Friday, when she warned the protesters not to repeat their actions.
“If you continue to disrupt criminal proceedings, we’re going to look at potential criminal charges,” McCann told CPR's Sam Brasch. “The legislature has to be able to complete its business.”
Polis told reporters in his office that afternoon, after the disturbance in the gallery of the House chamber, that he couldn’t hear what the protesters were saying. However, Polis has fought for more local control and a more level playing field for public health and community safety in regulatory decisions.
He has passed an aggressive agenda on climate change during his one year in office, including advancing electric vehicles and expediting the closure of coal-fired energy plants. His first campaign promise in his gubernatorial run in 2017 was a vow to get the state to 100% renewable energy by 2040.
The incident caused verbal skirmishes between a few Democrats and Republicans on the House floor, about whether disrupting the speech was a venue and whether the protesters should face the full brunt of the criminal code for their actions.
House Republican leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock reminded the chamber in an ensuing debate on Jan. 14 that the state has a law: every bill gets a public hearing.
"That's a great place where voices of opposition to bills and to ideas and to policies in this building can be heard," he said, adding, "They should do it in that manner in the right way."
Rep. Jim Wilson, a Republican from Salida, said he was all for freedom of speech.
"I am not for freedom of disruption," he said. "If you want to use vulgar language in my presence, and my family is there, your right to freedom of speech ended when my children start hearing that."