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Under the Dome, Day 27 of the Legislative Recess

Seven states—Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Vermont—are still in legislative session.  Twenty six states, including Colorado, have suspended legislative sessions due to COVID and thirteen states have wrapped up their 2020 legislative session.  This week a tentative timeline for passing the state budget crystalized.  Updated figure setting documents will be available to the public on April 27.  The Joint Budget Committee is expected to meet again beginning on Monday, May 4.   Legislative Council Staff and the Office of State Planning and Budgeting will provide revenue forecasts on Tuesday, May 12.  Since the two offices presented revenue forecasts in March, much has changed.  The budget shortfall, originally thought to be around $800 million is expected to be much higher, perhaps $3 billion.  The JBC would take the rest of that week to finalize the Long Bill with the rest of the legislature returning on May 18 to take up the budget in the House.  On Wednesday Speaker Becker shared the goal of having the Long Bill sent to Governor Polis by May 30. 

 Ballot Measures

This week one of the paid family and medical leave ballot proposals, Initiative #283, moved forward at the Title Board.  The Board denied a motion for re-hearing.  Kelly Brough, President and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, had filed a motion to hold another hearing to set the title language for #283.  The title language remains the same as what the Title Board previously set.  While the Title Board has started to meet remotely, once ballot measures move past this step, they face an unusual hurdle.  The COVID-19 outbreak and the stay at home orders have hampered signature gathering efforts for ballot measures.  Spring and summer are typically the seasons for ballot measure campaigns to gather signatures at events, outside grocery stores, and from people passing on the streets.  But with most people staying home and strict social distancing requirements in place, these campaigns are now on hold until these measures are lifted.  Most measures face a deadline of early August to submit more than 124,600 signatures to the Secretary of State.  If stay at home measures extend into the summer, campaigns may not have enough time to gather an adequate amount of signatures before the deadline.  The constitution prohibits online signature gathering, so unless Governor Polis temporarily waives that requirement, the August deadline looms large for initiative campaigns that need to gather signatures.  Among the pending measures are several proposals to change parts of election and campaign finance system including one that would implement approval voting where voters can chose as many candidates as they like.  Another pending measure would repeal the state’s flat income tax and replace it with a graduated income tax.  Initiative #122 proposes to limit housing construction to 1% growth in 11 metro area counties.  So far, only three measures—a repeal of the national popular vote, a US citizenship requirement to vote, and a measure to reintroduce wolves in the state—are on the November 2020 ballot.

COVID-19 Update

  • 6,508 cases
  • More than 1,300 hospitalized
  • 56 counties
  • 241 deaths
  • 32,653 people tested

This week the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Colorado passed 6,000.  Health officials continue to say that the real number of cases is potentially several times that amount because of limited testing.  On Thursday, Governor Polis extended the emergency disaster declaration for another 30 days.  This allows the Governor to access additional funding, waive procurement rules, and implements the crisis standards of care to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Governor Polis deferred severance taxes due in April for one month.  Severance taxes are paid on the extraction of oil and gas.   This adds to growing list of tax deferrals. 

This week the Governor’s Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee recommended changes to the state’s Crisis Standards of Care Plan.  These provide guidelines for how hospitals should allocate scarce resources, such as ventilators and hospital beds, in a crisis when the need exceeds the availability.  Under the guidelines, factors like race, ability to pay, immigration status, gender, religion, etc. should not be used to make triage decisions.  If activated, a triage team would use a 4-tier approach to assess which patients would receive the limited resource.  Under the system, patients would be scored on how ill they are and if they have chronic conditions that could make recovery less likely.  Other tiers consider if the patient is a child, health care worker, first responder, or is pregnant.  If patients score evenly and move down the tiers, the final way to allocate resources is through a lottery.  The hope is that social distancing measures will continue to flatten the curve and prevent these crisis standards from being necessary. 

Today Governor Polis gave an update on the state’s response in front of the Denver Convention Center which is being converted to a field hospital with capacity to handle hundreds of COVID patients that don’t require critical care.  He expects the Convention Center to be ready by April 18.  Today he gave an update on the preparations being made for a surge in COVID patients.  The social distancing measures slow the rate of transmission of the virus, giving time to increase health care capacity in preparation of a surge in cases.  Governor Polis described a 4-tier system with different types of facilities caring for patients with different levels of care needed.  The most severe cases will be handled in Tier 1 facilities, which are mainly hospitals, and asymptomatic individuals can be cared for in Tier 4 facilities such as converted dorms and hotels.  Ambulatory surgical centers, free standing emergency departments, and other Tier 2 facilities will handle critical care patients.  Tier 3 facilities, such as the Convention Center and other field hospitals, are for individuals who can be stepped down from critical care. 

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