Update: The state Capitol is closed to the public indefinitely, a state news release announced March 18. Staff and members of the media will still be allowed in.
As Colorado’s number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose to 131 — and amid the state’s first death due to the disease — the state Legislature shut down until at least March 30.
Lawmakers passed a resolution March 14 to adjourn for roughly two weeks, according to a release from state House Democrats spokesman Jarrett Freedman.
The Capitol was closed to the public March 16 and 17, and crews were to clean all areas per guidelines by the state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a state news release. Staff and media members were to be allowed in the building during that time.
Staff suspended Capitol tours indefinitely as of March 13, according to Theresa Holst, manager of visitor services at the Capitol.
School districts, high school sports, libraries, recreation centers and some large gatherings in the Denver metro area had all temporarily shut down, been canceled or were postponed amid the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by a widespread coronavirus.
The state was likely on “the verge of a tipping point” where it will see more widespread person-to-person transmission of the illness, Gov. Jared Polis said at a March 11 news conference.
The Legislature has yet to finish work on some of its highest-profile bills, including the annual state budget and the “Colorado option” — Democrats’ proposal for a health insurance plan that is offered by private insurers but designed by the state. The Legislature was about halfway through its regular session, the four-month period of the year in which it passes laws.
“It’s a bit unclear whether or not the session can be extended past (early) May,” Freedman said, noting that there are legal questions surrounding that possibility. Lawmakers plan to ask the Colorado Supreme Court to clarify.
All bills still on the table will remain in place until the Legislature reconvenes, Freedman said. The recess may be extended if coronavirus concerns are serious enough, he said.
The decision to shut down was made by both Republicans and Democrats after the Legislature’s consultation with public health officials.
“House and Senate leaders have been talking throughout the day collaboratively to arrive at this pathway forward,” said Freedman, who described the decision as bipartisan.
“I appreciate the bipartisan cooperation we have had in crafting the resolution to recess," state Senate minority leader Chris Holbert, R-Douglas County, said in a news release. “This crisis has reminded us that while legislators have an important role in our state government, our being in session is not critical to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It's better that we adjourn and relieve the public of the burden of advocating for or against legislation at the Capitol until this crisis subsides.”
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