After three straight election cycles in which Colorado voters rejected Republicans and increased the Democratic majority in the General Assembly, all the expectations of drama were on the Democratic side in the 2023 General Assembly. And once again, the Republican minority yelled, name called, and attempted some obstructionist stunts; but once again, they failed to actually do anything for Colorado.
Colorado voters gave our Democratic majority a mandate, and Democrats made good. This year, Colorado’s progressive majority in the legislature made historic progress on protecting abortion rights and reducing the harm from gun violence. For the first time in years, Colorado is set to meet our constitutional obligation to fully fund public education. Continuing Gov. Jared Polis’ campaign promise to save people money on health care, Colorado passed legislation to limit hospital provider fees and cap the price of EpiPens.
ProgressNow Colorado helped lead the way on dozens of pieces of legislation, from ending liability immunity for the gun industry, to enacting abortion and gender affirming care shield laws in the wake of the Dobbs decision, to eviction protections for renters, to ending profiteering off families trying to keep in touch with incarcerated relatives. All of this wasn’t by accident, and many of the gains we’re most proud of in Colorado — like oil and gas reform and equal pay laws — took years of amplifying the voices of Coloradans, patient organizing and voter validation to accomplish.
This year, one of the most important pieces of unfinished business for the next session is relief from the skyrocketing cost of housing in Colorado. PNC supported Gov. Polis’ bold initiative to free up zoning restrictions to allow the development of denser, transit-friendly affordable housing. Transparency and fairness for gig workers, who we all rely on for groceries, transport to and from the airport, and meals, is a critical issue that isn’t going away.
Among the things we did get done was to further solidify Colorado as a proactive leader and a haven state on abortion access and reproductive rights. This year, Colorado passed significant protections – the Safe Access to Protected Health Care bill package – building on last year’s historic Reproductive Health Equity Act and combating escalating red state attacks seeking to undermine abortion access and gender-affirming care for trans folks across state lines.
Colorado also passed Senate Bill 23-284 to make sure patients can get a twelve-month prescription to contraceptives, which is especially critical to people facing barriers to reproductive health care, including rural Coloradans and communities of color. All of this took place while the far right continued to push for a national ban on abortion medication, reminding voters that reproductive rights we’ve taken for granted for generations are only one election away from being lost forever.
This session, Colorado also advanced the boldest, most substantial package of gun safety legislation since the 2013 session – with far less political backlash – showing how far the debate has evolved on this issue.
Colorado removed liability protections for the gun industry, as well as punitive costs for plaintiffs, dating back to Republican backlash over Columbine in 2000. New laws raising the age requirement for gun purchases to 21, instituting a three-day waiting period on purchases, banning untraceable “ghost guns,” and strengthening Colorado’s landmark “red flag” law will save lives, while the gun lobby’s promised “circus” in opposition never materialized. Sen. Tom Sullivan, the General Assembly’s foremost authority on gun safety, led the drive to pass these bills keeping Colorado at the forefront of the struggle to reduce gun violence.
To be clear, the Republican caucus, as small as it is, still manages to be a disorganized mess with no discernible leadership, choosing the Big Lie and abortion bans over the needs of Coloradans, while their own vitriolic infighting continues.
From the opening day of the session, when far-right Rep. Scott Bottoms made a symbolic bid for the House Speakership later won by Julie McCluskie, it’s been obvious that Minority Leader Mike Lynch had no control over the House Republican Minority. This meant that agreements Lynch made with majority Democrats for changes to legislation that would benefit Republican interests were broken when Lynch’s own lawmakers refused to keep their end of the bargain.
The 2023 Session marked some significant gains in a state where the Republican brand continues to be toxic to the majority of voters and incapable of governance. We saw this Tuesday night when the GOP lost the Mayoral Race in Colorado Springs.
The Democratic supermajority will have another opportunity to make further progress in 2024. And the Republican minority will continue their downward spiral.
Sara Lu Loflin is the executive director of ProgressNow Colorado.