Colorado Legislature wraps up 2021 session4 min read
The Colorado Legislature ended its 2021 session this week after the Democrat-controlled body pushed through a swath of progressive legislation with little Republican support in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, multiple mass shootings in the state and a continuing nationwide reckoning for racial justice.
House Speaker Alec Garnett said at a Wednesday news conference that Democrats were proud to be “honest and transparent” in delivering on promises made to Colorado voters.
Here are some highlights:
House Democrats introduced a follow-up to a sweeping police accountability bill passed last year during nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd. That bill eliminated the qualified immunity defense that protects police from misconduct lawsuits. It also established body camera requirements and limited potentially lethal uses of force.
Democrats passed a 2021 bill that includes stricter body camera standards and implementation, reporting requirements for law enforcement contact with the public, the use of de-escalation techniques before physical force is applied in encounters with civilians, and procedures for reporting officer misconduct.
A ketamine bill — inspired by the death of Elijah McClain in the Denver suburb of Aurora in 2019 — prohibits law enforcement from influencing paramedics to administer ketamine and specifies that the drug shall be used for “justifiable medical” emergencies.
One of the most controversial bills for law enforcement was shot down in the session’s last days when two Democrats sided with Republicans in a committee vote. The bill aimed to reduce state jail populations by limiting arrests for certain lower-level offenses including traffic incidents, petty drug offenses, municipal offenses or drug misdemeanors, with exceptions.
A bill introduced following the March mass shooting at a Boulder grocery store that killed 10 people repeals state law prohibiting local governments from imposing bans on the sale, purchase or possession of a firearm. It also allows local governments to enact firearms bans that are “not less restrictive” than state law.
Another bill inspired by the Boulder shooting calls for Colorado’s Bureau of Investigation to prohibit firearm transfers to a person convicted within the past five years of certain misdemeanor offenses, such as third-degree assault, sexual assault, child abuse or a hate crime.
Two others bills already signed into law require gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms to law enforcement and to use secure locking devices in an effort to prevent gun injuries and deaths by unsupervised juveniles.
Numerous progressive-backed bills passed this year provide free reproductive health care to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, protect pregnant women’s rights, create a kidney disease prevention and education task force, cap insulin prices, create mental health care and support programs, monitor prescription drug prices and improve maternal health outcomes.
Numerous measures introduced by Republicans didn’t even make it out of committee hearings.
Some of the failed legislation included bills to evaluate electronic voting systems, conduct annual audits of the statewide voter registration system, require witnesses for ballot signatures and create a state bipartisan election commission. Colorado’s election system has been lauded as one of the best in the nation.
Democrats’ second attempt to create a state-run public health insurance option was dramatically changed to create a state-overseen basic “Colorado Option” insurance plan for individuals and small businesses by setting price targets for insurers, hospitals and health care providers.
Another bill passed by the Legislature over the objections of the pharmaceutical industry creates a prescription drug affordability board tasked with reviewing and setting price ceilings for prescription drugs.
A $5.4 billion transportation initiative raises fees on gasoline and diesel fuel, home and business delivery services, Uber and Lyft rides and vehicle registrations to address Colorado’s multibillion-dollar highways and bridges transportation maintenance backlog, expand public transit services and encourage the use of electric and hybrid vehicles.
Republicans insist the fee hikes violate the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, a constitutional amendment that requires voter approval of tax increases. The $5.4 billion also includes federal stimulus and state spending.
Colorado joined Washington as the second state to allow human composting with a process called “natural reduction,” which utilizes organic materials to break down the human remains to become soil. Lawmakers also passed a ban on single-use plastic bags and polystyrene products for many restaurants and shops.
A last-minute bill requires electricity providers to adopt clean-energy programs to meet climate goals set by Gov. Jared Polis’ administration. It also directs the Air Quality Control Commission, a panel appointed by the governor, to create fees on greenhouse gas emissions and regulate emissions sources that directly affect lower income and communities of color.