I would like to take a quick moment to provide you with a general political scan of this 2023 Legislative Session to better understand what to expect in 2024. This first session of the 74th General Assembly came to a screeching halt about 10 pm on May 8 without adopting the Governor’s land use priority, as the Democrats were unable to secure the votes necessary for its passage. Day 120 also saw House Republicans walk out of the chambers in protest of the rules limiting debate. This session will be remembered for working weekends and nights, majority rules, and intra-party squabbles.
With Democrats holding a historically large majority, they came into the session knowing they would control the proceedings. Business groups looked towards the first floor and Governor Polis to moderate the coming progressive agenda. Republicans merely hoped to be part of the conversation. In his State of the State speech on January 17, Governor Polis highlighted affordability and housing as two of his top legislative priorities along with public safety, air quality, water conservation, lowering health care costs, and tax policy.
Coming into the gold dome, Democrats held a 23-12 advantage in the State Senate and a 46-19 supermajority in the House, the worst legislative disadvantage the party had seen in 85 years.
Republicans had little leverage to stop or amend measures they opposed, except to filibuster a bill and ask for the bill to be read at length. These tactics, along with mishandling of the calendar and excessive late bills, led to a logjam the last month of session.
The pressure to get through a legislative backlog was intense during the final weeks, and the tight timeline even brought the Senate into session on a Sunday for the first time in more than 80 years. Meanwhile, working nights and weekends had become the norm in the lower chamber. Republicans successfully debated bills for hours on end – until Democrat leadership decided to limit debate until Rule 14. Rarely ever invoked, Rule 14, only takes a simple majority to pass and can limit debate on a bill to as little as an hour. In recent weeks House Democrats turned to it several times to cut off Republican objections to bills about guns and abortion.
There were 143 bills pending in the legislature as of the Friday prior to adjournment, including last minute bills on property tax and TABOR refunds proposed by Governor Polis. With the rules suspended, it only takes three days to pass a bill. As highlighted in Colorado Politics, with just a days to go before the end of the session, Colorado's House Democrats rushed to push through a last-minute proposal that seeks to equalize TABOR refunds to about $660 per person. The new proposal also ties its implementation to the passage of Gov. Jared Polis' plan that offers tax relief by using a portion of TABOR refunds to give to property tax owners.
Going into the final day of session, the biggest items remaining on the calendar were the land use bill and the property tax plan. The House and Senate were on course for a showdown over land use. Each chamber had passed very different versions of the bill. Either one chamber would have to accept the other’s version, or hand it off to a conference committee to try to negotiate a compromise.
The last night, Republican representatives stormed out of the House chamber while their colleagues in the Senate requested full readings of lengthy bills, asked to add new amendments to legislation, and rambled long debates to run down the clock and prevent passage of the more contentious proposals coming out of the General Assembly. In the end, Senate Democrats were unable to come to agreement among their own caucus on the Land Use bill and the measure died. Also on Monday evening, in an informal House Democratic caucus, one of the most progressive members, Rep. Epps, confronted the Speaker for allowing Republicans to speak and for allowing last minute bills to pass.
Governor Polis and Democratic leadership declared the legislative session a success, pointing to a record investment in education, support for wildfires, regulation of utilities, capping prescription costs, enacting additional penalties for auto theft, stricter gun control, and providing tax credits for electric vehicles, bikes, and lawn equipment among other accomplishments. But it was a victory lap tempered by the late-session failure of the governor's top priority for 2023 — affordable housing. House Republicans, who staged a walk-out on the last day, say Democrats abused their majority by using an obscure rule to limit debate and Senate Republicans accused the Democrats of overreaching to keep TABOR refunds.
Next year’s session, expected to be very similar, starts January 10, 2024.