It’s tempting to mark Tuesday’s adjournment of the 2021 legislature with an apt quip. Like this familiar chuckler, courtesy of Gazette columnist and wiseacre at large Jon Caldara, in his Wednesday newsletter: “100 politicians walk into a bar…and nothing gets done.”
Yet, as Caldara himself observes in the very next line, “Oh, how I wish that were true in Colorado today.” And there is the rub. If only the worst thing they did was nothing.
For all the procedural pitfalls of the legislative process, as well as the usual foibles of individual lawmakers, it turned out to be all too easy for them to approve some bad ideas this year. And those bad ideas are now on their way to a governor who is in many cases like minded.
There were fundamentally misguided measures. Ruling Democrats approved a health-care “reform” that was watered down from an earlier iteration creating a potentially disastrous “public option” government health insurance program. But it wasn’t watered down enough. It still stands to impose price controls at some point on doctors and hospitals, which could chase plenty of docs out of Colorado and even shutter some hospitals rendered insolvent.
There were shameless stunts, like a bill introduced at the eleventh hour to reclassify much of the state’s private property — to ensure it won’t be affected by a citizens initiative to cut taxes on next fall’s ballot.
And as in every session, there was gratuitously pointless fare. For example, the legislature adopted more restrictions on firearms that will further erode the rights of responsible, law-abiding gun owners — and do nothing to prevent another mass shooting. There was a ban on “single-use” plastics, used by eateries far and wide to cater to customers in the COVID era. After months of legislative debate, the proposal’s benefits, to anyone, are still missing in action.
Then again, there also were some near misses. And Coloradans should be grateful for those. They were the bills that were on a collision course with reality — only to have the wheels come off at the last moment, averting disaster. Like some of the Democratic majority’s ill-conceived and, in the end, ill-fated attempts at justice reform. Had they passed and been signed into law, Colorado’s already surging crime rate would have soared.
Similarly, a sigh of relief might be in order after lawmakers, facing a veto by Gov. Jared Polis, scaled back a wildly overreaching and economically crippling bill to regulate greenhouse gases. The jury is still out on that one, though. The real impact likely won’t be known until the finished product is implemented.
There even were some laudable strides by lawmakers, few though they were, and imperfect as they were. Like the major transportation package lawmakers forged that will finally, at some point, get motorists moving again on our highways. There was bona fide progress, as well, on much-needed mental health services, particularly for Colorado youth. And there was a broadly, refreshingly bipartisan bill tightening the reins on a retail marijuana industry run amok.
But it was small consolation for the flawed measures that made it into law.
All of which brings to mind another old political adage — about how no one’s liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session. All too true, but the line no longer is the wry witticism it once was. Not in an era when our elected policy makers really do have the power to wreak so much havoc.