KUNC

Colorado lawmakers ended a tumultuous, impactful session Tuesday night after passing dozens of new laws that are poised to change everything from how the state pays for roads to who can purchase guns.

It will take years to see the full impact of the 2021 lawmaking term, but some changes are happening soon.

Here’s a look at five major ways the decisions under the gold dome are expected to affect your life in the coming weeks, months and years.

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Mike Nolan has been a farmer for about 18 years.

“I don't like gardening,” he said. “I like farming in the sense of like, I like tractors, I like equipment. I like big harvests.”

His farm is in the Mancos Valley at the base of southwest Colorado’s snow-capped San Juan Mountains and across from the bluffs of Mesa Verde National Park. In a normal season, Nolan grows up to seven acres of vegetable crops, anything from turnips to squash to tomatoes.

This season, though, he’s had to cut down to less than a single acre.

The visible signs of a deadly pandemic are fading quickly inside the state Capitol.

Staff have removed the yellow caution tape that blocked the basement cafeteria for many months. Swarms of lobbyists and tourists are back. And people like Brett Frizzell are even taking off their masks deep inside the poorly ventilated building that historians once labeled a “disease breeding ground.”

“I've done both doses of Moderna, and so, you know, I'm following the guidelines that they're trying to set forth for us,” Frizzell said.

Saying they are turning their outrage into action, Colorado lawmakers on Thursday revealed the three bills they want to pass this session in the wake of a mass shooting at a Boulder King Soopers that killed 10 people.

Together, the measures would temporarily prevent people convicted of some violent misdemeanors from purchasing guns, create a new state office focused on preventing gun violence and allow cities to adopt stricter gun laws than the state.

Environmental groups suing to halt construction of the Windy Gap Firming Project in Northern Colorado have agreed to drop their case in exchange for $15 million to address concerns about the proposed project’s water quality and ecological effects.

The Colorado River’s biggest reservoirs are likely to drop to historically low levels later this year, prompting mandatory conservation by some of the river’s heaviest users.

The latest Bureau of Reclamation reservoir projections, which take into account river flows in a given year, show a likelihood that Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada stateline will dip below the critical threshold of 1,075 feet in elevation in May and remain below that level for the foreseeable future.

State lawmakers from Boulder are vowing to pursue "aggressive" and "meaningful" legislation in response to last month’s shooting that left 10 people dead. But their early calls for an assault weapons ban — and waiting periods for gun purchases — are stirring up a lot of emotions around the state.

A gun-owning Democrat who leads horseback adventures in San Miguel County is torn over the idea of an assault weapons ban.

A former corrections officer living in Cortez says lawmakers should focus on strengthening laws already on the books.

When it comes to water in the West, a lot of it is visible. Snow stacks up high in the mountains then eventually melts and flows down into valleys. It’s easy to see how heavy rains and rushing rivers translate into an abundance of available water. But another important factor of water availability is much harder to see.

Beneath the surface, the amount of moisture held in the ground can play a big role in how much water makes it down to rivers and reservoirs – and eventually into the pipes that feed homes and businesses.

The Fort Yuma-Quechan Indian Tribe is situated at a nexus in the Colorado River Basin.

That’s true in a geographic sense. The tribe’s reservation overlays the Arizona-California border near Yuma, Arizona. The two states are heavily reliant on water from the Colorado River.

A showdown is looming on the Colorado River. The river’s existing management guidelines are set to expire in 2026. The states that draw water from it are about to undertake a new round of negotiations over the river’s future, while it’s facing worsening dry conditions due in part to rising temperatures.

This weekend’s snowstorm will likely translate to significant drought relief for portions of Colorado, while others remain mired in drier than average conditions.

Snow that blanketed the northern Front Range and northeastern plains will provide two to three inches of liquid water when it melts. Some localized areas are seeing even higher amounts ranging from four to five inches of water held in the snow, said Colorado’s assistant state climatologist Becky Bolinger.

“I do think we’re going to see clear improvements all along the Front Range from this event,” Bolinger said.

Colorado has shuffled its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan once again.

Starting March 5, the state will start offering doses to grocery store workers, Coloradans ages 60-64, agriculture workers and all residents over 16 who have two or more pre-existing conditions that put them at higher risk from the virus.

Gov. Jared Polis said the new phase will encompass almost 1 million people.

The city of Greeley wants to keep growing, and it needs water to do so.

Over the last couple years, city leaders have focused their energy on testing and developing an underground water supply to make that growth possible. The Terry Ranch project, estimated to cost upwards of $318 million to fully build out, would give the city access to an untapped water source — a rarity on the fast-growing, water-tight Front Range.

As Colorado embarks on an effort to reintroduce gray wolves, two competing packs are starting to form.

One wants to run, and the other wants to walk.

Gov. Jared Polis is leading the pack wanting to speed up the process, saying wolves “take care of themselves” and will be easier to release into the landscape than other animals Colorado has already brought back, including the Canada lynx and the black-footed ferret.

Polis says he has already lined up the first batch.

Dry conditions are the worst they’ve been in almost 20 years across the Colorado River watershed, which acts as the drinking and irrigation water supply for 40 million people in the American Southwest.

As the latest round of federal forecasts for the river’s flow shows, it’s plausible, maybe even likely, that the situation could get much worse this year.

Colorado lawmakers started a legislative session on Wednesday that will be defined in its early days by a raging pandemic and a heightened sense of unrest following a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol.

There were more police on hand than usual for a session kickoff a week after extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol, resulting in the deaths of five people. Colorado state troopers on bicycles circled the outside of the building, while three troopers stood guard at one point outside the House Chamber.

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.

Following confusion and frustration this week over the COVID-19 vaccine rollout to seniors in Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis held a news conference Wednesday to talk about how residents ages 70 and up can try to gain access.

Polis said hospitals are launching new online portals for seniors to get the vaccine, but supplies are limited and many providers are randomly sending out invites.

Polis also defended his decision to announce the start of vaccinations for this age group last week before many health care providers were ready to offer it.

Government workers in Colorado are busy this month building the new websites and application forms that will let residents get their share of more than $240 million in coronavirus relief approved by lawmakers during a special session.

“This stuff is working at breakneck speed, so we’re working as quickly as we can to get this up,” said Brett McPherson, a spokesman for the Department of Local Affairs.

The general public will probably have to wait until summer 2021 to get a coronavirus vaccine, according to a new distribution plan Gov. Jared Polis and top public health officials unveiled on Wednesday.

The plan includes three phases. Hospital workers who treat COVID-19 patients, nursing home residents and their caretakers are first in line for the vaccine, which could arrive as soon as Monday.

Colorado lawmakers passed a state-funded stimulus package worth more than $200 million during a three-day special session that stayed mostly cordial and bipartisan.

They also gave Gov. Jared Polis an additional $100 million to respond to the pandemic and rejected Republican lawmakers’ attempts to limit Polis’ power to issue more executive orders during the virus outbreak.

Lawmakers stressed the stimulus package is far short of what the federal government could provide.

Colorado voters have decided to bring back a wild animal that was eradicated from the state in the 1940s because of the threats it posed to livestock and ranchers’ livelihoods.

But don’t expect to hear a gray wolf howl on Colorado’s West Slope just yet.

Following the narrow passage of Proposition 114, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will now spend the next three years coming up with a plan for how to reintroduce the animals by 2023.

The planning process will include public hearings to help determine how many wolves will be released in Colorado, and where.

Colorado voters have narrowly endorsed a movement to change the way the United States picks its presidents.

With the passage of Proposition 113, Colorado will stay in the so-called National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

The initiative consists of a group of states wanting to award all their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the most votes nationwide.

Updated at 9:15 a.m. on 11/4/2020

Colorado voters rejected a measure that would have prevented women from getting an abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy unless the procedure was needed to save the woman's life.

Proposition 115 failed 59% to 41% with 85% of votes tallied as of Wednesday morning.

As a result, Colorado will remain one of seven states in the country without restrictions on abortions.

Colorado workers who need paid time off to care for a newborn or a sick relative are one step closer to having access to such a benefit after voters passed Proposition 118.

The measure, which was winning 57.09% to 42.91% will create a new statewide leave program allowing all Colorado workers to take up to 12 weeks off for a number of medical reasons while still collecting most of their paycheck.

Starting in 2023, workers and their employers will begin paying premiums each month for the benefit, which won’t start until 2024.

Boosted by the state’s deep disapproval of President Donald Trump, former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper defeated incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner and flipped a U.S. Senate seat in Colorado.

Hickenlooper, a two-term governor who led the state through floods, wildfires and the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, ran a campaign largely focused on criticizing Gardner for supporting Trump and attempting to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper spent more than three hours together in recent weeks trading attacks and making their pitches to voters. If you didn’t watch all three of their debates, here are some of the main takeaways to catch up on.

Lagging in the polls, Gardner is trying to make the race about character.

For many communities in the West, the water that flows out of kitchen faucets and bathroom showerheads starts high up in the mountains, as snowpack tucked under canopies of spruce and pine trees.

This summer’s record-breaking wildfires have reduced some of those headwater forests to burnt trees and heaps of ash. In high alpine ecosystems, climate change has tipped the scales toward drier forests, lessened snowpack, hotter summers and extended fire seasons.

Major wildfires have burned through the Western U.S. in 2020, breaking records for their scale and damage. As firefighters tamp down their immediate effects, those who live nearby are coming to grips with the lingering danger of wildfires. Even long after the flames are gone, residents face a serious increase in the threat of flooding.

Giuliana Day says the 22nd week of a woman’s pregnancy is an important milestone.

“That is over five months into the pregnancy when a baby is fully formed and is a fully alive human being, and we treat them like a human being,” Day said.

It’s also when Day says a fetus can survive outside the womb. Its why she says she is leading an effort to stop abortions after this phase unless the mother’s life is at risk because of her pregnancy. Day’s effort to get Proposition 115 on the ballot was boosted by several Catholic churches, which helped circulate petitions.

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