The General Assembly tentatively plans to resume the legislative session May 18 after a two-month hiatus amid the coronavirus.
The Democratic leadership set the date during a meeting Wednesday at the closed state Capitol but suggested it may change depending on the status of the public health crisis.
“Keep in mind, a lot could change between now and then, and I think it’s important that we remain flexible and pay very close attention to where we are in regards to the risks to public health,” said House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver.
The Executive Committee of the Legislative Council, which includes the top-ranking lawmakers in each chamber, spoke in muffled tones through face masks, sitting at least 6 feet apart at the front of a mostly empty room.
The statewide stay-at-home order issued by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis runs through at least April 26, but doesn’t apply to the legislative branch.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended the cancellation of gatherings with 50 or more people through May 10.
The legislature temporarily adjourned March 14 as the spread of the COVID-19 disease began to accelerate, and it set a return date of March 30, only to indefinitely extend the break. A subsequent Colorado Supreme Court ruling gave the legislature flexibility to extend the session beyond the original May 6 adjournment date because of the ongoing threats to public health.
Legislative leaders are discussing whether to hold remote hearings, but obstacles remain to make them accessible for lawmakers and inclusive to the public. Furthermore, it would require a legislative rule change by a two-thirds vote, meaning lawmakers would need to return to the Capitol.
The new timeline offered by legislative leaders would allow the budget committee to return the week of May 11 and finalize the $32 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Republican leaders did not voice objections to the dates.
The must-pass budget remains the largest obstacle. The March economic forecast suggested lawmakers will need to cut spending to address a $1.5 billion decline in state revenue over the next three years related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder, estimates the budget hole is closer to $2 billion or more, and lawmakers have requested an updated fiscal forecast for when the Joint Budget Committee restarts its work in May.
The legislature expects to send the budget to the governor by May 30, if not sooner.
Even as leaders set a date to resume, it remains unclear when the session might end. Each lawmaking term is 120 days, but 52 days remain, meaning it could extend into July.