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Politics and Government

Colorado lawmakers will return for special session to address coronavirus relief

Gov. Jared Polis wants lawmakers to take immediate action on elements of his $1.3 billion stimulus package that includes relief for restaurant owners and other small businesses

The dome of the Colorado Capitol on July 26, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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The Colorado General Assembly is preparing for a special session that will provide more relief to those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, The Colorado Sun has learned.

“We’ve been having conversations with the governor’s office about how to best provide economic support to families right now,” said Senate Majority leader Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat “We feel like we can’t just leave people out to dry.”

The move — which is expected to be announced as soon as Tuesday — comes as Gov. Jared Polis pushes a $1.3 billion stimulus package and demands lawmakers take immediate action to provide $105 million in tax breaks for restaurants and other businesses hurt by public health orders on capacity limits, and $100 million in payments to support renters, mortgage holders and child care centers.

The special session is expected to take place after the Thanksgiving holiday, but before lawmakers return on Jan. 13 for their normal lawmaking term. It will take at least three days to approve legislation.

Fenberg and House Speaker-designate Alec Garnett, D-Denver, declined to provide details, but confirmed a special session is being discussed.

Polis’ office did not confirm that the governor is going to call for a special session, but in a written statement Monday night, the Democrat’s spokesman, Conor Cahill, confirmed there have been discussions with top state lawmakers.

The Fox Theater in Montrose is closed as life in Colorado shuts down in response to the new coronavirus. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“Legislative leaders and the Governor’s office have been having productive conversations on how we can step up to help provide additional relief to Colorado businesses and hardworking families during these challenging times,” Cahill said. “Coloradans continue to wait for Congress to act, but we are committed to doing what we can as a state.”

Other state lawmakers, however, confirmed the special session announcement is imminent.

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“We’re trying to figure out ways to help Coloradans who are most negatively impacted by this,” Garnett said. “The lack of federal support is putting a lot of stress on Colorado’s families.”

On Thursday, Polis asked the Joint Budget Committee to take action to help those in Colorado hardest hit by the economic consequences of the coronavirus. He said major spending to provide relief is needed within weeks — and cannot wait for lawmakers to start the new legislative session Jan. 13. But the budget committee cannot act alone on all of his requests.

Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters at a news conference on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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In October, Polis issued an executive order to send $375 stimulus checks to people making less than $52,000 who are receiving unemployment benefits. About 435,000 people are expected to receive the checks in early December at a cost of $168 million to the state.

Fenberg said the special session talks are part of efforts to build on the stimulus checks as the pandemic worsens by the day in Colorado and more restrictions on people’s movement and businesses appear unavoidable.

Former House Republican leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock wrote on Twitter that he heard the governor was considering a special session but didn’t offer any confirmation or details. He said if the governor supports a special session it would run counter to his public health warning against families getting together for Thanksgiving.

“Let me get this straight,” Neville wrote Monday evening. “Polis says you can’t have Thanksgiving, but he can call 100 legislators from 100 different families together?”

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Fenberg and Garnett said they are working with Republican lawmakers on how to provide relief and what steps the legislature should take.

Rep. Hugh McKean, the top House Republican, did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Monday night. But Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Douglas County, said, in an interview with The Sun, that the GOP has been brought along in the discussions.

“It seems like we were brought in late in the legislative discussions, generally, but the governor has been encouraging this (bipartisanship) since he rolled out his budget request,” Holbert said.

He’s not sure what the special session policy will look like exactly, but at first glance he thinks Republicans will want to work on the stimulus efforts around small business relief, housing aid, childcare support and broadband access.

“I think Republicans can be supportive of at least these four ideas that have been presented,” Holbert said. “The devil is in the details.”


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