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Colorado Lawmakers Return During Virus Surge To Consider Stimulus Plan

Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage
The Colorado Senate begins a special session on Monday to tackle coronavirus relief spending. Eleven senators participated remotely due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

Colorado lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Monday to consider a $220 million stimulus package for restaurants, movie theaters, child care centers and other businesses that have been hard hit by coronavirus restrictions.

But lawmakers spent the week leading up to the special session trying to manage their constituents’ expectations for the state-funded stimulus.

Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, said at a recent town hall the package would not be a “silver bullet.”

“It’s not going to be enough, but it’s going to be better than nothing,” he said, adding that the federal government had more power to help.

In the absence of a federal stimulus package, lawmakers introduced more than a dozen bills on Monday. One of the most significant would provide $37 million to small businesses that have been hurt by capacity restrictions during the pandemic. A business that makes less than $500,000 in revenue each year could receive up to $3,500 from the state. Counties would distribute the money starting in February.

Meanwhile, some Republicans are introducing bills seeking to limit Gov. Jared Polis' emergency powers during the pandemic.

One measure aims to end the emergency declaration that is allowing Polis to issue executive orders such as his statewide mask mandate. Some Republicans have been critical of the orders, saying only the legislature should be able to enact such a rule.

Democrats maintain control of both chambers of the legislature and are expected to quickly block any efforts to limit the governor's power during the pandemic.

About a third of lawmakers participated remotely on session following a recent surge in virus cases.

Senate President Leroy Garcia said lawmakers and staff who returned to the Capitol during the pandemic were taking an “undeniable risk."

“We need to treat our time here with respect, reverence and an abundance of caution,” he said.

As Garcia spoke, several Republican lawmakers in the Capitol were not wearing masks. State Rep. Larry Liston wore his mask over his head instead of his face in the House chamber for several minutes, telling the Denver Post he was “goofing around.”

Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage
State Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, wears a blue mask over his head during the start of the special legislative session. Liston was one of several Republican lawmakers to go maskless during the proceedings at the Capitol, which are occuring during a surge of coronavirus cases nationwide.

Public health officials have estimated in recent days that as many as one in 41 Colorado residents are contagious with the virus. The death toll is approaching 3,000 residents after the recent spike in cases.

State lawmakers also kicked off the session offering prayers to Gov. Jared Polis and his partner Marlon Reis, both of who were diagnosed with the virus on Saturday.

Lawmakers are aiming to finish the special session on Wednesday.

The public can sign up to testify on bills remotely here.

Scott Franz is an Investigative Reporter with KUNC.