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The Colorado State Legislative session resumed on Tuesday, May 26 after a hiatus  of several weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic known as COVID-19. The General Assembly returned to the building to vote on the proposed budget and pass other critical pieces of legislation in a session expected to be about three weeks in length.

On its first day back in session, the majority Senate Democrats introduced several new bills in response to the devastating impacts that Colorado communities are experiencing due to COVID-19.

“Now is not the time for partisan bickering or playing politics with pandemic recovery,” said Senate President Leroy Garcia in a written statement. “We need to cut red tape and get relief to the people who need it most. We also need to narrow our focus and energy towards passing legislation that protects people’s health, gets small businesses the help they need, and puts the hardworking people of Colorado back to work.”

Colorado State Capitol. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

The return to the Colorado State Capital is being done with public safety precautions that do change the experience of participating in government. The public is now only allowed to enter through the south side entrance. All those now entering the building are required to get their temperature checked prior to entry and anyone with a temperature over 100.4 will be given information about how to participate remotely.

Face coverings are required for all visitors to the building and all staff. Inside the Capitol, everyone will be required to maintain social distancing in chamber galleries and committee rooms. In addition, several communal spaces like chamber lobbies and the basement café will be closed. Elected officials in the General Assembly will work with plexiglass spacers between the desks.

While active participation is still considered a critical aspect of the formation of public policy, the Legislative Council Staff will have to adjust to reduced use of physical materials. Members of the public can still participate remotely through written testimony, which will be read in committees. Written testimony should be submitted here.

Remote testimony will not be available for the remainder of the session, so individuals who would like to participate remotely must submit written testimony.

Individuals who want to testify in person will need to submit documents to committee members through the written testimony form or email the committee members with the content. Those who wish to testify in-person must sign up to testify through an electronic form. The form will be available to witnesses present in the Capitol complex at least an hour before the committee hearing. The form to be completed is available here and instructions for registration are posted in the Capitol. Rather than attending the public hearings in committee or chambers in person, members of the public are also encouraged to listen to the proceedings from home using this link.

Among the new legislation that Senate Democrats say is aimed to protect the rights of working families and alleviate the fear and uncertainty brought about by the unprecedented pandemic circumstances:

SB 20-205 Paid Sick Leave (Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, Sen. Bridges)
This bill allows all employees to accrue paid sick leave, and requires employers to provide 80 hours of paid sick leave related to COVID-19 through the end of 2020. Starting in January 2021, all employers would be required to provide 48 hours of paid sick leave that can be used in a calendar year.

SB 20-207 Unemployment Insurance (Sens. Hansen, Winter)
This bill expands and increases qualifications for unemployment insurance benefits (UI), increasing the amount of money workers can make (from 25 percent of benefit amount to 50 percent and still receive full UI benefits.

It would expand “good cause” reasons for workers to quit including that the employer failing to follow health and safety guidelines, a child care crisis due to the public health emergency, or caring for sick or quarantined family members

SB 20-206 Public Benefit Disqualifications Bill (Sens. Todd, Cooke)
This bill makes changes to how public benefits are administered through the Colorado Department of Human Services in an effort to increase access to necessary benefit programs for Coloradans during the pandemic and beyond.

Senate Democrats say they will continue to prioritize and protect education funding, affordable health care access, and critical social and public health programs, all of which will be difficult in a year where the pandemic has caused a more than one billion dollar budget shortfall.