A “fast, friendly, mousy” end to legislative session? That hinges on vaccine bill

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The Capitol reopened this week for the first time since the legislature paused its work in mid-March. And it’s awfully quiet in here.

Bills that debuted pre-COVID are dying at a remarkable pace, as the Democrats who run this building look to clip basically anything that costs the suddenly cash-strapped state money, or that requires significant debate.

Lawmakers are mostly hanging in their offices. There are few lobbyists, no visitors, and the press corps is smaller than usual.

If the goal is to keep everyone safe and distanced, then all of that is good. 

But for how long can Democrats keep this building fast, friendly and mousy?

The answer largely depends on whether they decide to take up the bill to limit vaccine exemptions. (As a reminder, Colorado is last in the nation for childhood immunization rates.)

That bill, which dropped before the virus shut down the legislature, will undoubtedly bring a big crowd of opponents if it ever sees the light of day. Those opponents will likely bring their kids, and — if their recent outdoor demonstrations are any indication — many won’t wear masks or follow distancing rules.

Democrats want to do everything possible to limit crowds and spectacle over these next few weeks of lawmaking. That’s a big reason the public health insurance option bill is dead. Ditto for the bill to provide paid family and medical leave statewide.

But, man, wouldn’t it be something if Democrats fail (again) to pass a bill that aims to modestly improve Colorado’s abysmal vaccination rates at a time when a vaccine is health experts’ best hope for ending the COVID-19 pandemic?

Three days into the resumed legislative session, lawmakers say they haven’t decided whether to take up the vaccine bill this year. My guess is that they will not, but of course I could be wrong.

If they do, expect big crowds at the Capitol and another round of heated debate among lawmakers who earlier this week professed a desire to keep things apolitical in the coming weeks. More on that below.

Also below, Conrad Swanson checks in on the GOP’s mess in Weld County. He’s done some phenomenal reporting on that topic lately; give him a follow @conrad_swanson if you haven’t already.

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You can send tips, comments and questions to me at aburness@denverpost.com or to the other Post reporters below.

Top Line

Estes Park is hoping visitor will ...

RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

Estes Park is hoping visitors will come back after Rocky Mountain National Park reopened on May 27, 2020.

Estes Park, which asked the feds to close neighboring Rocky Mountain National Park in March, is celebrating the park’s reopening this week. Town elected officials also backed off this week on a requirement that everyone wear masks in public — even outside. Reporter John Aguilar has the story.

Capitol Diary • By Alex Burness

“Playing politics” in a pandemic

On Tuesday morning, Capitol Rs and Ds alike called upon one another to set politics aside and come together in the interest of helping to guide Coloradans through this crisis.

I have to say that I have no idea what these people actually mean when they say that now is not the time for politics. Everything that happens in this building is political. The two parties disagree on nearly every issue of any consequence.

So it was no surprise when things got political Wednesday. 

Democrats in both the House and Senate proposed a rule change to allow certain members to participate in lawmaking remotely, and even to vote on bills from home. The Dems have the majority in both chambers, so it was obvious from the get-go that the rule change would pass both. And so it did.

(Note that members of the public who want to participate in state government this spring still must appear in person in Denver or put their thoughts in writing.)

Before the rule change was made official, Republicans put up a fight, protesting for a couple hours on the grounds that lawmakers should accept risk as part of the job, and that if anyone is uncomfortable being in the building right now then maybe they should find a different line of work.

The debate got heated at times and, In the end, every single Democrat voted for the change, and every single Republican voted against it. Whaddya know — politicians got political.

I expect that’ll happen in other ways throughout this eerie, abbreviated half-session. I also expect that, when it’s convenient, members of both parties will accuse the other side of “playing politics” during a pandemic. 

More Colorado political news

Front Range Politics • By Conrad Swanson

GOP rift patched up, more or less

The very public infighting among Weld County Republicans appears to have died down since state GOP Chair Ken Buck made nice with the local chairman last week.

The patch job is Buck’s second damage-control maneuver this month, though other Weld County Republicans have still called for their local chairman, Will Sander, to step down. 

“I have never seen it as corrupt as it is,” Lesley Taylor, a new Weld County Republican precinct committee person, said of the county party in an email seeking for Sander’s resignation. 

Sander filed complaints alleging election fraud and corruption by four local Republicans earlier this month. One of those mentioned in Sander’s complaints to the Secretary of State’s Office is a member of Buck’s congressional staff. 

But Buck threw his support behind Sander on Friday. 

“I look forward to continuing to work with Will and all Weld County Republicans in moving our Party forward and ensuring that we elect strong conservative leadership in November,” Buck said in a release. 

Sander returned the favor.

“I appreciate chairman Buck and the Colorado GOP’s willingness to work with my team and to find a solution to this situation,” Sander said in the same release. “I have complete confidence in his leadership and that of the state party’s, and I look forward to moving past this and getting to work on the important races we need to win this November.” 

Indeed, Sander’s complaint — currently under review by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office — has come at an inconvenient time. Added to a separate controversy in El Paso County, the infighting harms the state GOP’s ultimate goals of re-electing President Donald Trump and the at-risk Sen. Cory Gardner, many have said. 

Denver and suburban political news

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