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'It's Been Wild:' Colorado House Speaker Reflects On A Strange Session, Says Lawmakers Could Return

Colorado House Speaker KC Becker addresses lawmakers Friday morning as her son, Leo, applauds her speech.
Scott Franz
Colorado House Speaker KC Becker addresses lawmakers Friday morning as her son, Leo, applauds her speech.

State Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder, is nearing the end of her two-year tenure as Colorado’s Speaker of the House. It's been an eventful time at the Capitol. Becker was part of a historic effort to expel a fellow lawmaker for sexual harassment. And this month, she presided over what many are calling the strangest legislative session in history. 

Capitol Coverage reporter Scott Franz spoke to Becker this week about her legislative experience and what the chances are for a special session this summer.Capitol Coverage reporter Scott Franz talks to outgoing Speaker of the House KC Becker about the legislative session.

FRANZ: Lawmakers obviously had a very challenging session. One that many called unprecedented, the strangest session they've ever seen. I mean, you guys were wearing masks and meeting between plexiglass barriers. I'm hoping you can talk about how you think it went.

BECKER: Yeah, I mean, it was definitely a strange session. It was 35 days shorter than normal. We killed a lot of our own bills that were priorities because obviously, a huge cut in the budget. Also awareness of being in the building for a long time, when, you know, there is this pandemic going on and a real shift in priorities. And so, and then like brand new things to figure out like, do we do remote meetings? How is the public able to participate?

Another signature piece of legislation we saw come through was the bipartisan police reform bill. This was obviously a very emotional topic for many lawmakers. I'm wondering if you can take us behind the scenes on what it was like to help steer that legislation through.

That was another wild part of the session. Obviously we were planning, figuring out how to manage having the legislature meet through a pandemic when no one else was meeting. And we were going to have one of the only places in the state where you could have a large gathering of folks. But understandably there were very large protests right at the Capitol. And there were two days we had planned to meet that we had to cancel. We just wanted to give space to the protestors to meet. And there was a lot of activity around the Capitol of graffiti. There were actually guns shot right at the Capitol when I was in my office and on a Zoom call and realizing, ‘Oh my God,’ guns were just fired right outside my window. But the response was quick.

You know, what happened to George Floyd really has moved people across the globe, but here in Colorado, we were able to move really quickly ahead of other States, partly because we happened to be in session. And partly because we said, ‘we're absolutely doing this. Hey, all of you law enforcement folks, make sure we get it right.’

I imagine it's a challenging time to be in leadership right now having to oversee billions of dollars of budget cuts and the new safety procedures at the Capitol. What kept you going through this?

It really was unprecedented. I said that when we were considering expelling a member from the legislature and I was in charge of that investigation and thought, wow, I never thought I was going to do this. Well, I never thought I was going to be, you know, leading the legislature through a pandemic and through some pretty serious and important protests. And, you know, I just kept thinking, what do Coloradans want to see happen? And I think they really wanted to see the legislature be adults in the room and get the right things done for Colorado. Keep moving forward. Have business as usual. But put politics aside and really that absolutely informed on a day to day basis, what I thought we should do. And it was, you know, completely different decisions.

But at the end of the day, I'm really proud of what we did. From the coronavirus legislation that we introduced that gets rent assistance and utility assistance and mental health support out across Colorado to some of the legislation we've working on that wasn’t bipartisan, like the vaccines bill or like trying to eliminate corporate tax credits to help benefit K-12 education. Not bipartisan, but I think really still important, good work for Colorado.

This was your last session as speaker of the House. What do you consider as your greatest accomplishment during your tenure?

I tend to be a policy geek and I dig into the details and I love that part of the job, but I think the thing that I'm most proud of is having a House Democratic caucus that is big and strong and supports each other and really is focused on doing what's right for Colorado. And that sounds cliché, but it's absolutely true. I think the culture of the caucus, the culture of the place really matters. And it matters in any business environment and it matters at the Capitol because it impacts what actually happens for Coloradans. It impacts how you work with the public, work with staff, work with all the stakeholders that are there every day.

And that's something I really focus on and I'm really proud about. I think we achieved a lot for Colorado.

On the flip side, what are the things that didn’t get done that you think should happen next session?

There was legislation about gun violence that we didn't move forward with. It was so controversial and the opportunity for the public and others to participate during this pandemic just was more limited and we really needed to focus on coronavirus. And so that's something that we didn't move forward with this year that I think absolutely needs to get moved, needs to happen next year.

There was a lot of legislation focused on driving down healthcare costs. Well, that was hard to do when hospitals, you know, doctors, nurses, everyone, insurance companies are really focused on responding to the pandemic. But that's going to continue to be a priority next year. We had legislation on transparency around pharmaceuticals and their pricing. Again, something that's going to have to be brought up next year is still important, but, but was controversial and time consuming. Really the focus in terms of anything public health or healthcare related was on the coronavirus.

Do you think there's any chance lawmakers will have to return to the Capitol before January? Any other hurdles that didn't get picked up or any budget decisions you think will, will need to be made?

There's definitely a chance that lawmakers would have to go back to the Capitol. I think if Congress takes action on things that we have to respond to, that could be more (stimulus) money. If the legislature has a role in that, that could drive us back. There’ve been some surprises over the next few months and we have to be nimble and responsive and, and so, you know, anything could drive us back to the Capitol.

Copyright 2020 KUNC

Scott Franz is a government watchdog reporter and photographer from Steamboat Springs. He spent the last seven years covering politics and government for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a daily newspaper in northwest Colorado. His reporting in Steamboat stopped a police station from being built in a city park, saved a historic barn from being destroyed and helped a small town pastor quickly find a kidney donor. His favorite workday in Steamboat was Tuesday, when he could spend many of his mornings skiing untracked powder and his evenings covering city council meetings. Scott received his journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an outdoorsman who spends at least 20 nights a year in a tent. He spoke his first word, 'outside', as a toddler in Edmonds, Washington. Scott visits the Great Sand Dunes, his favorite Colorado backpacking destination, twice a year. Scott's reporting is part of Capitol Coverage, a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.
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