The Spot: A dilemma for the state legislature, a move to the right in Congress and changes for Denver’s unhoused

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I expect Colorado’s legislature will convene its regular, annual session on Jan. 13 at the Capitol. They’ll swear in new members and take care of a few other pieces of must-do business.

Beyond that, I’m really not sure of much. One thing I think is close to certain is that this session will not be a normal, 120-day session that runs uninterrupted until adjournment in May.

We wrote about the funky calendar challenges last month, and since then things have only gotten more complicated. The Democrats who run the legislature and thus control the calendar are extremely wary of a post-holiday spike in COVID-19 cases, though safety concerns will abound even if the current numbers remain stable.

The three-day special session the legislature wrapped a couple weeks ago was hard enough to pull off. Many members participated remotely. Compliance with mask-wearing was inconsistent. The public and lobbyists — two key parts of the government process — were basically absent from the building.

That’s not an ideal way to conduct state business, as many lawmakers have acknowledged to me.

We will almost definitely learn more soon, as lawmakers firm up their plan, but it seems increasingly likely that they’ll take a break at some point — maybe multiple points — during the session. There’s been talk of them gaveling in on Jan. 13, doing a few of those must-do items, then gaveling out for some number of weeks. But no decisions have been announced.

If the goal is to break until it’s relatively safe for people to gather in person at the Capitol for an extended period, they might be waiting awhile. Most Coloradans won’t be vaccinated until at least the spring, the state’s projections suggest. And the cold weather, which forces people indoors, isn’t going away soon.

What this means is that a whole lot of policy debates and legislative actions could be on hold. Every session sees hundreds of new bills, and the pandemic has given lawmakers no shortage of new problems to address in 2021. With a break, we’d probably see many examples of bills that might’ve become law in, say, March, becoming law in April or May.

Throughout this pandemic, Gov. Jared Polis has had an unprecedented amount of power, and in general the Democrats in charge at the Capitol feel good about his leadership. Lawmakers have advised him on various things related to pandemic response, and statehouse leadership is in regular contact with him. But outside of the special session, the legislature hasn’t officially been at work since the spring. And if it indeed takes a break this winter, Coloradans should settle in for even more of that.

Elsewhere in this week’s Spot, Saja Hindi has more on the challenges awaiting lawmakers, Justin Wingerter writes on a lurch to the right among Colorado’s shrinking GOP Congressional contingency and Conrad Swanson has the latest on big changes for Denver’s unhoused population.

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Top Line

President Donald Trump signed into law Thursday legislation establishing a suffragist monument in Washington, D.C., created by Loveland artist Jane DeDecker. DeDecker’s sculpture, “Every Word We Utter,” features Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, Harriot Stanton Blatch, Ida B. Wells and Alice Paul. An exact location for the sculpture has not been determined, though an early version of the bill called for it to be placed near the U.S. Supreme Court.

Capitol Diary • By Saja Hindi

“The start of the end”

The atmosphere was almost electric.

That’s how it felt walking into Poudre Valley Hospital on Monday when health care workers were getting the first COVID-19 vaccines in the state. State Rep. Kyle Mullica, an ER nurse, told me he felt a similar sense of energy on Wednesday when he got his own shot at Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver.

“I’m super excited that this is the start of the end,” he said.

But expert after expert keeps repeating the same thing: We have a long way to go. This isn’t the time to get lax on our precautions. There is hope, but this pandemic is not over.

The Pfizer vaccine that Mullica and other health workers have received is two doses — they will get the second dose after about 21 days, and then it will take at least a week before they can count on full protection. Health care workers who work with COVID patients are part of the state’s first phase of rolling out the vaccine. The general public in Colorado is expected to have access to the vaccine by the summer. There’s also the uphill battle of ensuring people trust the vaccine — health care workers included — and getting it to marginalized populations.

On the heels of the end of a special session by the Colorado Legislature, new and returning lawmakers are set to begin their new work in January. As Alex notes above, COVID-19 is causing some complications to the schedule. But lawmakers have a lot to address. The pandemic wreaked havoc not just on people’s health but also their livelihoods. The 10 bills they passed in the three-day session made a dent in some of those areas, but as we’ve reported before, there is so much more to go.

Colorado’s unemployment rate is surging. Hospitality industries are in trouble — a survey by the the American Hotel and Lodging Association released this week expects that nearly 70% of Americans won’t travel over Christmas (per public health guidance) and about 71% of hotels don’t think they’ll last another six months without some help. Restaurants are also struggling, many forced to shutter their doors because of restrictions. Schools are seeing enrollment drops and are worried about loss of funding.

And people are having a hard time affording food and basic necessities, as well as paying rent.

UCHealth Dr. Diana Breyer told me she’s hopeful about the vaccine and everyone should continue to heed precautions, but it seems the pandemic fatigue was leading people not to take them seriously even before the vaccine started becoming available.

The more cases and hospitalizations rise, the harder it will be to get back to any sense of normalcy, and the larger the problems will be to address.

More Colorado political news

  • An eight-hour hearing on election integrity ended with no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Colorado.
  • Colorado’s Electoral College electors make Joe Biden, Kamala Harris win official
  • Rep. Kyle Mullica is the first state lawmaker to get the coronavirus vaccine, CPR reports
  • Colorado administers first COVID-19 vaccines to frontline workers
  • Millions in state funding to school districts at risk because of COVID-19

Federal politics • By Justin Wingerter

The new GOP delegation

As the Colorado GOP loses stature in the halls of Congress, it is moving farther to the right.

There will be three Colorado Republicans in Congress next year, the fewest in a decade. Two of the three, Reps. Ken Buck and Lauren Boebert, will be members of its most conservative club, the House Freedom Caucus. And Rep. Doug Lamborn is a hardline social conservative.

All three have discredited the presidential election results. All three have called for a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden. Buck floated the idea of impeaching Joe Biden in February.

Expect this trio to make plenty of noise next year. Expect them to continue their calls for Biden investigations and criticisms of Big Tech. Don’t expect a lot of bipartisanship.

One of Boebert’s first votes in Congress, three days after her Jan. 3 swearing in, will be on whether to certify the results of the presidential election. The congresswoman-elect has suggested she will join a last-ditch effort to challenge that certification — an effort virtually guaranteed to fail.

“With all the irregularities in this election, we may never know the true way people voted in this election,” Boebert tweeted Dec. 11. “It is up to Congress to make this right and be the final say in this dispute. That is the what (sic) the Constitution stipulates.”

More federal politics news

  • Jenna Ellis, the Trump attorney from Colorado, was fired from her job as a Weld County prosecutor in 2013 for making mistakes on cases, The Colorado Sun reports.
  • CPR News caught up with understated Rep. Scott Tipton as he exits Congress.
  • The Colorado Republican Party acknowledged Tuesday that Joe Biden is the president-elect, Colorado Politics reports.
  • The Gazette looks at efforts to keep U.S. Space Command headquarters in Colorado.

Mile High Politics • By Conrad Swanson

A second, legal homeless encampment opens in Denver

Denver’s second legal homeless is up and running, officials said Wednesday morning.

And for the time being it appears that’s as many encampments as residents can expect, which will come as good news to some and bad news to others.

The new encampment is located at the Denver Community Church’s uptown location on Pearl Street. Cole Chandler, executive director of the operating nonprofit, Colorado Village Collaborative, said in a matter of hours the place filled up.

“This site opened to participants around 10am yesterday,” Chandler said in an email. “By 3pm, all 30 tents were filled and we had welcomed 39 people, 2 dogs, and 1 cat into the Safe Outdoor Space.”

That site joins the city’s first, which opened late last month at First Baptist Church in Capitol Hill. The 22 shelters there can host a maximum of up to 30 people.

While many advocates hail the two encampments as a success, more work must be done, they have repeatedly said. The city’s homeless population is growing now and will continue along that trend as the pandemic and economic crisis continue.

Chandler has said he hopes another site or two could open early next year but first they’d need acceptable sites, which have been difficult to get considering neighborhood pushback across the city.

In the meantime, however, organizations like Chandler’s will work to ensure the existing encampments are successful, track their progress and hope they can serve as an inroad to additional ways to help the homeless, advocates have said. These encampments — while more might be needed — are not the city’s only approach to this problem, but rather just one more tool in the toolbox, as they say.

More Denver political news

  • Denver City Council agreed to defer raises for the city’s firefighters and suspend other benefits in an attempt to save millions as the city faces a historic budget crisis during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
  • Reluctantly, Denver City Council cemented a raise for police by approving a controversial union contract for about 1,450 officers. But not before a few lambasted Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration.
  • Denver’s Department of Finance has earmarked $4 million in COVID-19 emergency funds for residents, workers and businesses> hurt by the pandemic, officials announced.

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