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Colorado Lawmakers Start New Session Wednesday, But Things Will 'Look A Lot Different'

Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage

For decades, the opening day of Colorado’s legislative session has usually been full of hugs, flowers, speeches and celebrations.

But due to the coronavirus pandemic and new fears raised by last week’s deadly attack at the U.S. Capitol, this Wednesday’s kickoff will be short, and subdued.

There might also be an increased police presence after a warning from the FBI about potential armed protests at state Capitols around the country.

“The state patrol is planning for worst-case scenarios, hoping that it doesn’t happen,” State Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, said Monday. “We don’t have any information to make us worried or concerned more than any other other American should be concerned or worried right now. We’re living in trying times, and everyone is on edge. It seems like we have one crisis layered on top of the other. We’re going to take every precaution we can to make sure everyone is safe.”

Fenberg said they will not allow the recent violence in Washington D.C., or new threats of violence, to interrupt their work.

“I think the lesson to be learned here is we cannot allow democracy to be taken down by an angry mob,” he said. “We need to get past this and we need to start talking to each other again. We need to start problem-solving with each other again instead of resorting to violence or potentially just swirling in our own individual echo chambers where extremists take hold. And we need to figure out how to work together as a country and as a state once again.”

The legislative session was already going to take on a different tone even before the violence in D.C. rocked the nation.

To avoid spreading the coronavirus, lawmakers plan to only meet for three days this week before adjourning the session for at least a month.

Democrats, who control both chambers, say they will only stay long enough to pass an initial round of bills that are minor and technical in nature.

For example, one piece of legislation would give cities more time to apply for coronavirus relief funding that was approved last month during a special session.

Another would allow Coloradans to continue getting their wills notarized electronically during the pandemic, after an exception allowing it expired last month.

Incoming House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver, says the first days will also lack many of the legislature’s traditions.

It's not going to be as much pomp and circumstance,” he said. “There's not going to be as many flowers and people in the gallery. And we're going to get through the work that we need to get through safely.”

Meanwhile, Democratic leaders at the Capitol say that lawmakers will get access to the COVID-19 vaccine some time before they plan to resume the session on Feb. 16.

Asked at a news conference Monday if they were “jumping the line” ahead of residents aged 70 and older, party leaders said they felt getting the vaccine was “necessary” to be able to get back to a normal work routine at the Capitol.

“There are 100 legislators. There are a whole lot of people in Colorado over 70,” Majority Leader Fenberg said. “It’s going to take a while to get through that population. I don’t think we’re jumping the line. By no means are we taking vaccines away from people who need it more than us. I also think It’s important for the continuation of our state government that the legislature can meet, as the constitution requires.”

Copyright 2021 KUNC

Scott Franz is a government watchdog reporter and photographer from Steamboat Springs. He spent the last seven years covering politics and government for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a daily newspaper in northwest Colorado. His reporting in Steamboat stopped a police station from being built in a city park, saved a historic barn from being destroyed and helped a small town pastor quickly find a kidney donor. His favorite workday in Steamboat was Tuesday, when he could spend many of his mornings skiing untracked powder and his evenings covering city council meetings. Scott received his journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an outdoorsman who spends at least 20 nights a year in a tent. He spoke his first word, 'outside', as a toddler in Edmonds, Washington. Scott visits the Great Sand Dunes, his favorite Colorado backpacking destination, twice a year. Scott's reporting is part of Capitol Coverage, a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.