May 3, 2023 - Politics

Tensions rise as Colorado legislative session nears end

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Democrats can't get their act together at the state Capitol.

State of play: The majority party is fracturing on major issues as the legislative session nears an end.

  • Members are voting to defeat each other's legislation, filibustering their own party's bills and instigating conflict with Democratic Gov. Jared Polis.
  • The dynamic is most visible in the House, where Democrats hold a historic number of seats and split along mainstream and progressive party lines. But it's also evident in the Senate, where moderates hold crucial roles.

Why it matters: The typical tension in the legislative process is reaching a fever pitch in the final week, spurring intraparty revolts and jeopardizing key priorities.

What they're saying: "I think it's disappointing with a supermajority in the House and a near supermajority in the Senate that we aren't able to deliver on basic policies," state Rep. Javier Mabrey (D-Denver) told Axios Denver.

Zoom in: Three progressive measures — to ban assault weapons, authorize local rental price controls and permit sanctioned drug-use sites — all died in recent weeks with Democrats voting against them.

The intrigue: State Rep. Elisabeth Epps, a prominent liberal lawmaker from Denver, filibustered for three-plus hours in opposition to a Democratic bill to increase the criminal penalties to a felony for indecent exposure toward minors.

  • The measure narrowly passed with a majority of Democrats voting against it.

The other side: Meanwhile, Republicans are waging a war of attrition, forcing the clerk to read bills at length all session long in protest of the supermajority's agenda, creating delays that led to unusual weekend sessions.

Yes, but: Democratic leaders see silver linings and pushed harder on policies where they had to compromise in prior years. Examples include strengthening efforts to make it more difficult to access firearms, imposing price limits on prescription drugs, providing paid sick leave and equal pay to workers, and propping up the state's fledging public health insurance option.

  • "There's going to be a lot of drama and palace intrigue," Senate President Steve Fenberg (D-Boulder) told reporters, "but we've gotten a lot done in these past 100-plus days."

What to watch: The more liberal House is threatening to resurrect far-reaching land use provisions that Senate moderates cut from a housing bill backed by Polis, setting up a potential showdown just days before the May 8 adjournment.


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