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Colorado General Assembly concludes 2021 session

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Derek Draplin | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – The Colorado General Assembly concluded its 2021 legislative session late Tuesday, the first regular session following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state’s Democrats, which control both legislative chambers and the governor’s office, were able to pass most of their agenda despite pushback from Republicans on several major issues.

Lawmakers kicked off the 73rd General Assembly in January with a “soft open,” taking a month-long temporary adjournment because of COVID-19 safety precautions.

The Legislature’s last day didn’t come without some drama. While the Senate adjourned earlier in the day, Republicans in the House debated an environmental justice bill late into Tuesday evening, arguing they weren’t given adequate time to read a heavily revised bill. The bill was the result of a hurried deal among Democrats and Gov. Jared Polis, The Colorado Sun reported.

The House later adjourned sine die after giving final passage to the bill.

“These last few months have been some of the most productive on record, all while responding to a global pandemic and getting vaccines into arms across our state,” Polis said in a statement after the session officially ended. “In the coming weeks and months, we will be working to implement these landmark pieces of legislation, helping Colorado recover faster and stronger than ever before.”

Some key pieces of legislation that the General Assembly passed this session:

Fee hikes for transportation

Among the most debated bills this session was a massive transportation bill that will use $3.8 billion in fee hikes to increase funding for transportation and electrification projects. Senate Bill 21-260 includes fees on road use, ride-shares, electric vehicle registrations, and retail deliveries, among others.

Critics argued the fees amount to new taxes that subvert the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), which requires voter approval of all tax increases.

SB 21-260 was sent to the governor to be signed into law on Tuesday.

A bigger state budget

Gov. Polis last month signed the state’s $34 billion budget, which restored cuts made from the last budget due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent recession.

The budget largely restores those budget cuts and also includes $800 million in economic stimulus.

The budget also includes a "historic" 13.4% increase for the general fund reserve fiscal in 2021-22.

Public option bill, again

Colorado Democrats took another shot at establishing a public health care option bill this session, although the final bill that’s heading to the governor looks very different from the legislation as introduced.

Amendments made to the legislation in April removed the part of the bill that would have created a state-run insurance plan.

House Bill 21-1232 still faced strong opposition from Republicans even after it was amended.

Tax code overhaul

Both chambers passed a pair of bills that will make significant changes to the state’s tax code. One bill will limit tax deductions for certain capital gains and fund an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Care Tax Credit. The other bill makes adjustments to the state’s insurance premium tax, as well as property taxes, severance taxes, and the sales and use tax.

Critics argued the bill to limit tax deductions could end up hurting jobs in the state.

Firearm legislation

Gun control was another contentious topic this session, similar to past sessions, particularly after the March shooting at a King Soopers in Boulder that left 10 people dead.

One bill that was passed establishes an Office Of Gun Violence Prevention in the state’s public health department to “coordinate and promote effective efforts” that reduce gun-related violence. Another bill requires state approval for gun transfers, while separate legislation that was passed will allow local governments to regulate firearms.

The governor already signed a bill this session that requires firearm owners to report any lost or stolen firearms and a bill one regulates forearm storage.