State Legislatures Shut Down Due To Coronavirus, Leaving Legislation On The Table
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Legislatures in more than 20 states have put their work on hold because of the coronavirus outbreak. In Colorado, lawmakers fled the Capitol before completing critical work. They won't be back until the end of the month, at the earliest. Colorado Public Radio's Bente Birkeland has that story.
BENTE BIRKELAND, BYLINE: The coronavirus is now impacting every facet of life, and state governments are not immune. Colorado lawmakers feel suspending their legislative session is the only safe option. I'm standing in the rotunda of the Colorado Capitol in downtown Denver. It's eerily quiet. Just days ago, lawmakers took the unprecedented step of temporarily stopping their work.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Members, thank you for your work. Be safe.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Seeing no objection, the House will be in adjournment.
BIRKELAND: Like a lot of workplaces, state legislatures are trying to figure out how to balance the risk of coronavirus and the need to get work done. Lawmakers haven't passed a budget yet, and many other bills concerning guns, vaccines and health care are now hanging in the balance. But state Capitols are not typical offices.
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BIRKELAND: Last week, Colorado's Capitol was bustling, filled with tourists, school groups, lawmakers, staff. It's one of the most visited buildings in the state. Before the Capitol shut down, it was so crowded that people stood shoulder to shoulder riding up an elevator.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Which floor are we going to?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Two.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Oh, wow.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Fire code.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: I don't know how I feel about this.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Does the door close?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: You could use the stairs.
BIRKELAND: Republican Representative Lori Saine says even under the best of circumstances, the state Capitol is a germ factory.
LORI SAINE: Some of our days go extremely long. People are extremely tired or extremely run-down. They may be extremely stressed. That makes it a ripe environment to make people more susceptible to an illness.
BIRKELAND: And when lawmakers decided to adjourn, there was a mix of uncertainty, pragmatism, anxiety and disbelief.
DOMINIQUE JACKSON: I never imagined that I would be dealing with this kind of pandemic in my lifetime. It's not something that you ever imagine.
BIRKELAND: That's Democratic Representative Dominique Jackson. She is immunocompromised and trying to be careful but says she's not worrying any more than anyone else. Republican Representative Mark Baisley says coronavirus has changed everything and broken down some partisan walls. Even with social distancing in place, he says one of his biggest political opponents walked over to give him a hug.
MARK BAISLEY: This is the moment where we are all Americans. We're all Coloradoans. We're on the same side. We're working together.
BIRKELAND: Are you OK?
BAISLEY: I'm fine. It is moving, though, to think this is how we should be at all times.
BIRKELAND: For now, even the most significant legislation is taking a back seat to coronavirus, while Democratic Gov. Jared Polis uses extraordinary emergency powers to guide the state through the immediate outbreak. Whenever they do come back to the state Capitol, lawmakers in both parties say their top priority has to be getting Colorado back on its feet.
For NPR News, I'm Bente Birkeland in Denver.
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