Colorado governor calls special session for COVID-19 relief
DENVER (AP) — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday called a special legislative session to craft a $220 million COVID-19 stimulus package to aid bars, restaurants, tenants, landlords and students.
The proposed package includes sales tax relief for restaurants and bars hit hard by capacity limits, funds for child-care providers, rental assistance for tenants and landlords and internet access expansion for students and teachers, Polis said.
He cited inaction in Washington on a new coronavirus relief package as one reason for the session. Dates for the state assembly have yet to be determined.
“Even as cases have exploded across the country, Congress and the president have not yet passed much needed relief for people. Here in Colorado, we want to do the best with what we have to take care of our own," Polis said.
As the state experiences “exponential growth” in new coronavirus cases, with over 1,300 patients hospitalized, officials are avoiding a full lockdown order, Polis said.
Instead, he said, between 10 and 15 counties, including Denver, will enter a “red phase” in the coming days, which means indoor dining and bars will close and gyms will be limited to 10% capacity.
The state has also added a “purple phase” to its COVID-19 dial which takes into account new cases, positivity rates for testing and hospital capacity. The purple level indicates a county has reached or exceeded its hospital capacity, affecting the quality of care for all hospital patients.
None of Colorado's 64 counties have reached this threshold, but Polis said hospitals are “starting to get stressed."
Polis and other state lawmakers expressed their concern Tuesday over the lack of new federal assistance, which does not seem to be on its way any time soon.
Democrats and Republicans generally say a new stimulus bill is needed, but they disagree on its scope. Some Republicans are opposed to sending another round of checks to most taxpayers and some don’t want Washington to bail out state and local governments that had financial struggles before the pandemic.
Colorado Republican Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert praised the governor’s call for a special session and said Senate Republicans are ready to negotiate legislation with their Democratic colleagues.
“We are thankful that Governor Polis recognizes that the limits of unilateral, executive action have been reached and we agree that involving the legislature is necessary to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic, educational, and other impacts stemming from it,” Holbert said.
“We hope that Democrats will give the same good faith consideration to legislation that we might propose as we are to theirs,” he said.
This is not the governor’s first attempt to overcome the absence of federal aid since Congress and President Donald Trump passed a nearly $3 trillion economic stimulus package back in March which granted checks to individuals and families who qualified.
In October, Polis issued an executive order to send $375 stimulus checks to those who received unemployment benefits from March to October. The money is expected to be sent out in early December.
Polis said one in 64 people in Denver and one in 110 people in the state are contagious with the coronavirus.
“Whether it’s one in 60 or one in 120, this is the riskiest time for the virus everywhere in Colorado that we have had from the very start," Polis said.
The number of coronavirus infections is thought to be higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.