Colorado Springs lawmakers are bumping up against principles of public safety and individual rights as the state prepares to gradually reopen after Sunday.
The El Paso County delegation told members of the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC on Wednesday that spending cuts would be the chief task when lawmakers return to Denver, tentatively May 18. Lawmakers adjourned March 14.
The state budget is facing up to $3 billion in lost tax revenue, while the state awaits federal help.
“Regardless of how we got here, this is our starting point going forward,” said Sen. Dennis Hisey, a Republican. “How do we get things going again, how do we get things opened up, so that everybody is functioning and not just a select few?”
Gov. Jared Polis highlighted the reopening during his coronavirus update Monday. His stay-at-home order expires Sunday.
Eagle County was the first county to apply for permission to reopen. Polis said the high-country community had “gotten its act together” by testing everyone and recording fewer cases for 14 consecutive days.
Rep. Dave Williams, the ranking Republican on the House Business Committee, said the primary concern of the Republican caucus is getting Coloradans back to work and their normal routines as best as possible.
“That’s what we’ve been pushing for, to allow more local control, as opposed to control from the governor’s office on this,” he told the chamber members. “We’re all pleased to see the stay-at-home order coming to an end. Our main priority is to make sure we’re doing no harm.”
Republican Sen. Paul Lundeen said the budget would be the General Assembly’s priority, followed closely by the School Finance Act, for which Lundeen is expected to be the Republican minority’s point person.
“We’ll try to use a scalpel to improve with the dollars we have and fight for every nickel we have, because frankly public education is critical to the future of the state,” he told the chamber members.
He thinks lawmakers need to prepare for a resurgence of the virus.
He said that the Spanish flu that began in 1918 had three waves over two years.
“We need to be preparing for a resurgence so we can be smarter in our public safety, so we can be smarter in the next go-around is going to be an important part of our conversation, after we deal with the budget, after we deal with school finance,” Lundeen said.
Sen. Pete Lee, a Democrat, said lawmakers also will take up “sunset” bills that reauthorize programs and agencies, as well as some of the governor’s appointments to expiring terms, but he and Republican Sen. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs are hoping to bring forward a bill on speedy trials.
“Certainly with 59 days left we want to bring forth legislation that’s going to go through quickly, easily and on a bipartisan basis — and, significantly, doesn’t cost anything,” Lee said.
Most bills legislators had expected to work on this year will likely be tabled for more certain times.
“I don’t care how good a project is, now matter how worthy it may have been two months ago, economic survival of our small businesses and medium-sized businesses and the economy generally is the new priority,” Gardner said.
Predicted Rep. Larry Liston, a Republican: “Anything that has a fiscal note will be dead on arrival.”
Rep. Terri Carver, a Republican, said the least amount of government interference is the best approach.
“Let businesses decide how to do social distancing,” she said, adding that beyond the budget and school finance act, lawmakers need to focus “like a laser” on the economic recovery.
Rep. Tony Exum Sr., a Democrat, said he was concerned about the health and welfare of business but also the safety of workers.
“I’m hopeful our businesses are innovative in their approach, but I’m hoping they will still be able to maintain their social distancing and follow the guidelines from the governor’s office.”