The Colorado Senate on Monday night killed the languishing land-use bill presented by Gov. Jared Polis as a long-term way to address the affordable housing crisis affecting communities from Durango to Denver to Deer Trail.
The chamber will not take up the measure, Senate Bill 213, before the 120-day lawmaking term ends at 11:59 p.m., effectively killing the legislation. The failure was a nod to the political reality that the bill didn’t have enough votes to advance in any form in the Democratic-controlled Capitol.
“The bill is dead,” Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat and a lead sponsor of the bill, told The Colorado Sun.
The bill started out as a mandate that cities and towns zone for greater residential density before it was pared back in the Senate to a task force. The measure was then partially resurrected in the House to increase the number of multifamily homes around bus and train stops in Colorado’s large cities.
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The Senate, however, ended the wrangling Monday night as the 2023 legislative session came to a close. With less than five hours to go in the lawmaking term, Moreno pronounced Senate Bill 213 dead.
Democrats in the Senate were unwilling to pass the version of the bill that came out of the House on Friday, and it wasn’t clear there was enough support to advance the measure to a conference committee, where Democrats in the two chambers could have tried to work out their differences.
Senate Bill 213 was the cornerstone of Polis’ affordable housing policies at the Capitol this year. His policy team was deeply involved in shaping the measure and trying to build support for it. The bill’s failure marks one of the governor’s biggest legislative defeats since he was elected in 2018.
“Gov. Polis will continue his fight to better protect the property rights of homeowners and make Colorado more affordable to purchase or rent homes because changing the status quo isn’t easy,” Conor Cahill, a spokesman for Polis, said in a written statement Monday night. “He is deeply disappointed that politics and special interests continue to delay delivering real results for aging Colorado seniors who want to downsize, young families who want to live close to their work and the communities where they grew up, and businesses struggling with workplace shortages because of artificially high housing costs.”
Cahill said Polis “is deeply committed to addressing the higher and higher costs facing hardworking Coloradans across our state and the governor is more confident than ever that reducing costly barriers to housing will prevail.”
The governor promised to address the state’s lack of affordable housing during his State of the State address in January kicking off the 2023 legislative session, hinting at a policy that would usurp local governments’ ability to stop multifamily housing.
“This is far beyond just a local problem,” he said in the speech. “We have to break down government barriers, expand private property rights and reduce regulations to actually construct more housing to provide housing options at a lower cost so that all Coloradans can thrive.”
In March, that policy was introduced.
The 105-page bill proposed what would essentially be an end to single-family zoning in much of the state, forcing cities and town to let duplexes, triplexes and other multifamily housing with up to six units on residentially zoned land. It also would have barred prohibitions on accessory-dwelling units, also known as ADUs or “granny flats.”
Cities and counties came out against the introduced version of the bill in droves with two of the state’s biggest local government advocacy organizations — Colorado Municipal League and Colorado Counties Incorporated — coordinating opposition among their members. Some of Colorado’s most powerful local leaders, including Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, came out against the bill.
Sponsored by Moreno and Democratic Reps. Steven Woodrow and Iman Jodeh, heavy amendments to the bill started as soon as it was debated at the Capitol. Republicans were uniformly opposed to the measure, but many Democrats voiced concerns, too.
Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, wrote in a Colorado Sun opinion piece that the bill “should be amended to eliminate state control of local land-use planning.”
In its first committee hearing, the measure was pared back through 17 amendments totaling dozens of pages. The changes shifted the bill from a broad attempt to increase housing density to legislation focused on boosting residential development around bus and train stops.
Then, when doubts arose about whether the measure had enough support to pass, it was gutted in the Senate Appropriations committee and turned into a task force bill. It was then approved by the full Senate mostly along party lines and sent to the House.
In the House, the bill’s sponsors introduced another set of amendments aimed at resurrecting some of the zoning provisions that were removed by the Senate.
The House sent Senate Bill 213 back to the Senate on Friday. The chamber had the option to vote on adopting the House amendments, adhering to its version of the bill or asking for a conference committee.
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Instead, the Senate let the bill languish and eventually die on the calendar.
“I’m incredibly disappointed,” Jodeh said in an interview Monday. “I think we had an amazing path to pass a bill that addressed our housing shortage, affordable housing, transportation, sustainable growth — addressed our climate issues. And, unfortunately, the House and the Senate didn’t see that path forward as the same path. And here we are.”
Jodeh said “the Senate fell short.”
Woodrow said he and Jodeh were trying to get the Senate to agree to send the bill to a conference committee but that the two chambers were unable to agree about whether the measure should impose certain zoning mandates on cities.
“At the end of the day, the sticking point was exclusionary zoning,” Woodrow said.
Both Jodeh and Woodrow said they would bring back some version of the policy for debate in the legislature in 2024.
“We’re excited to pick up from (where we left off) when we come back,” Woodrow said. “This is only the beginning.”
Jake Williams, CEO of Healthier Colorado, a nonprofit that was one of the main proponents of Senate Bill 213, called the measure’s failure “a disappointing chapter.”
“Coloradans who want more affordable housing were denied that opportunity,” Williams said in a written statement.
The Colorado Municipal League said it looked forward to more conversations in the legislature about affordable housing.
“Early in the legislative session and in testimony, CML committed to a vision of affordable housing legislation Colorado municipalities could support and that would both preserve constitutional home rule and local control, as well as address the urgent need for affordable housing across the state,” Kevin Bommer, CML executive director, said in a written statement. “We still are committed to that vision.”
The 2024 legislative session in Colorado begins in January.