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2020 State Legislative Session Ends With Sweeping Changes

DENVER (AP) — Colorado lawmakers wound down a shortened 2020 session Saturday having drastically cut education funding because of the coronavirus pandemic's revenue impact, allocating $70 million in federal aid to struggling business and residents, and passing a sweeping police transparency bill.

Colorado's November initiatives ballot got a little more crowded, too. Lawmakers referred a measure to ease property tax burdens on business. Another initiative in the works would raise cigarette taxes and tax nicotine products such as e-cigarettes and vaping products.

Bills to increase child vaccination rates and reduce business tax breaks and exemptions to fund schools were making their way through the Democrat-led General Assembly's two chambers.

After a 10-week hiatus forced by the coronavirus, lawmakers approved a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 that cut $3.3 billion from the $13 billion general fund. The budget cuts K-12 funding by $621 million and $598 million from higher education. It eliminates a $225 million payment into the state employee retirement fund. At Republicans' insistence, $162 million in property tax credits for seniors were preserved.

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Lawmakers were still bargaining over a controversial bill introduced by Democrats days ago to suspend or reduce business tax credits to help make up the hit being taken by the budget and by public schools. Republicans and business leaders from across the state say they weren't consulted on the bill and that it will hurt businesses trying to survive in a pandemic that's forced more than half a million workers across the state to seek unemployment benefits.

Democratic Gov. Jared Polis suggested Thursday he'd veto the bill without drastic changes.

Lawmakers passed or advanced bills to help residents affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Drawing from the $70 million in federal relief at legislators' disposal, the bills address mental health and substance abuse treatment, small business grants, rent and mortgage assistance, a fund to prevent utility shutoffs and a new public-private fund to support loans to small businesses.

Bills to extend unemployment insurance benefits to workers whose hours are cut by the pandemic and to expand sick leave eligibility were on track to reach the governor's desk.

Polis has embraced a police accountability and transparency bill that drew bipartisan support and endorsements from Colorado police, sheriffs and district attorneys' associations. It addresses use of force practices, mandates use of body cameras starting in 2023, requires public release of body cam footage in instances of misconduct complaints, and removes, in some instances, officers' qualified immunity from civil lawsuits.

The Senate sent the bill to the governor on Saturday. Speakers addressed the pain underlying the nationwide protests over the death of Floyd — protests that, in Denver, damaged Colorado's Capitol building and exposed lawmakers to tear gas.

"What we do here will not bring back George Floyd," said Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert. "If this effort has any effect on changing the hearts and minds of people in this nation, then we've done good work."

(© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)  

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