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Colorado’s governor vetoed more bills in 2023 than he has before

Jared Polis rejected 10 measures this year; his previous record was five
Gov. Jared Polis signs Senate Bill 168 on April 28, which rolled back Colorado’s extra protections for gun and ammunition manufacturers and sellers against lawsuits. (Olivia Sun/The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Gov. Jared Polis’ veto pen got a workout this year like never before.

In 2019, his first year as governor, the Democrat vetoed five measures. In 2020, he vetoed three. He vetoed four bills in each 2021 and 2022.

This year? Polis vetoed 10 bills passed by the General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats.

“We look at each bill individually,” Polis told The Colorado Sun on Wednesday. “Every bill that passes, our team does a policy analysis, a fiscal analysis and a legal analysis.”

The governor brushed off a question about whether his record number of vetoes this year, first reported Friday in The Unaffiliated, the politics and policy newsletter produced by The Colorado Sun, reflect communication problems between his office and the Legislature. Instead, he pointed out that he signed 473 bills passed by the Legislature this year as a way to play down the high number of vetoes. (He’s signed more in previous years.)

Democrats enjoyed expanded majorities in the House and Senate this year, and some more progressive lawmakers tested the governor’s will to reject their bills. Polis has been more active in lawmaking than governors before him, and sometimes that has led to clashes with representatives and senators.

Polis’ predecessor, John Hickenlooper, also a Democrat, vetoed 14 bills in his first seven years as governor. He didn’t veto any in 2013.

But in 2018, Hickenlooper’s eighth and final year as governor, he vetoed nine bills as he prepared to launch an ultimately unsuccessful presidential campaign. Hickenlooper was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2020.

Then-Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, vetoed 47 bills in 2005, setting a record.

“I don’t think 10 is an inordinate amount,” said Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat and close ally of the governor. “But when he has concerns, clearly they’re real. At the end of the day, he has final say whether a bill becomes law.”

Fenberg said many more bills passed by the General Assembly this year were changed during the legislative process to address the governor’s concerns and avoid a veto.

“There’s always next session to figure out the differences and still get something similar across the finish line,” he said. “I think with a lot of these bills, that’s going to happen.”

Some lawmakers were on the receiving end of more vetoes than others.

Polis vetoed two bills each that were sponsored by Democratic Reps. Lindsey Daugherty and Andrew Boesenecker, Democratic Sens. Faith Winter, Dylan Roberts and Robert Rodriguez and Republican Sen. Mark Baisley.

Boesenecker, a Fort Collins Democrat, said the governor’s vetoes of bills he sponsored were unexpected. He said it will change how he negotiates with the governor’s office in the future.

“It really does impact the ability to work in good faith,” he said.

Typically, the governor’s positions on bills are clear from the outset, Boesenecker said. That changed this year. He pointed to House Bill 1190, which would have given local governments a right of first refusal to purchase certain multifamily properties listed for sale. Boesenecker was a lead sponsor of that measure, which was vetoed by Polis.

“We’re not always clear about when the governor changes his mind, who is influencing that decision and how the public can engage in that process,” he said. “I’ve had conversations with the governor’s office before, they’ve threatened to veto before and we’ve always made the policy changes that mitigate that risk wherever we can. This year, and in particular around 1190, (was) very different.”

Business interests asked the governor to reject the bill. “I support local governments’ ability to buy these properties on the open market and preserve low-cost housing opportunities, but am not supportive of a required right of refusal that adds costs and time to transactions,” Polis wrote in a letter explaining his veto.

Winter, who was also a lead sponsor of House Bill 1190, is concerned that veto could set a precedent for special interest groups that don’t want to get involved in the legislative process. They could instead just make their case directly to the governor.

“The people asking for a veto didn’t participate in the process,” she said.

Winter added that she plans to bring the bill back next session.

Daugherty said she also didn’t hear from the governor’s office that there were concerns about the bills Polis vetoed.

“It’s just disappointing that we didn’t hear anything until basically it was too late,” she said, adding that the governor’s concerns could have been addressed through simple fixes.

Polis won’t have an opportunity to veto any more bills passed during the 2023 legislative session. Wednesday was his deadline to sign or veto measures, or let them become law without his signature.

What Gov. Jared Polis vetoed this year
  • Senate Bill 60, which aimed to boost consumer protections for event ticket sales. Online ticket retailers would have been required to show buyers all ticket fees up front as opposed to at checkout. The measure also would have banned speculative ticketing, which is when ticket resellers set prices for tickets before they go on sale. It would also have banned tickets from being sold by websites with deceptive names that make patrons believe they are buying directly from a venue. In a letter explaining his veto, Polis wrote that while he supported some elements of the measure, there were “significant problems” that could upset the state’s entertainment ecosystem. The bill had the “potential to discourage competition in the sector, ultimately harming consumers,” the letter said.
  • Senate Bill 256, which would have prevented wolves from being reintroduced on the Western Slope by Colorado Parks and Wildfire, as directed by a 2020 ballot measure, until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had completed a so-called 10(j) assessment about whether the gray wolf population is a nonessential experimental population. The classification offers an exemption to protections under the Endangered Species Act that allows for lethal management. “The Parks and Wildlife Commission has already invested significant resources into this process and, due to their hard work, Colorado is on track to secure the 10(j) before the end of the year,” the governor wrote in a letter explaining his veto. “The management of the reintroduction of gray wolves into Colorado is best left to the Parks and Wildlife Commission as the voters explicitly mandated.”
  • Senate Bill 259, which would have allowed Colorado casinos to offer lines of credit to their patrons under this measure that barely passed the Legislature. “Anyone of sound mind has the legal right to enter into a financially disastrous loan or transaction, but I am skeptical of the ability of a person with a gambling disorder to provide meaningful informed consent while engaged in gambling,” the governor wrote in a letter explaining his veto.
  • Senate Bill 273, which would have allowed agricultural land to be included in urban renewal areas under certain circumstances. Polis said in a veto letter that he understood the bill to be targeted at only one urban renewal plan but that he was concerned how it might impact others. He added that the changes would create more uncertainty and discourage investment in housing.
  • House Bill 1146, which would have prohibited most Colorado businesses from stopping an employee from accepting a cash tip from a patron. “A one-size-fits-all policy on how employers must handle gratuities across industries and across the state does not make sense for Colorado,” Polis wrote in a letter explaining his veto.
  • House Bill 1147, which would have imposed new fees – which the governor estimated to be $10 and the sponsors tried to limit to $2 – on driver’s licenses to pay for vouchers discounting driver’s education courses for Coloradans whose income is less than 200% of the federal poverty guideline. “While I commend the goal of the sponsors and stakeholders, I am deeply concerned about the increase in cost for driver’s licenses that the creation of a new enterprise and subsequent fee would impose,” the governor wrote in a letter explaining his veto.
  • House Bill 1190, which would have given local governments a right of first refusal to purchase certain multifamily properties listed for sale. “I support local governments’ ability to buy these properties on the open market and preserve low-cost housing opportunities, but am not supportive of a required right of refusal that adds costs and time to transactions,” Polis wrote in a letter explaining his veto.
  • House Bill 1214, which would have changed the clemency application process. It would have required the governor’s office to appoint an “executive clemency representative” to notify applicants that their clemency request has been received and if it’s missing any information. It would also have required the governor to consider an applicant’s good character before their conviction, good conduct during incarceration, and statements and supporting materials from the prosecuting district attorney. “The bill unconstitutionally infringes on the governor’s exclusive authority to grant clemency,” Polis wrote in a letter explaining the veto.
  • House Bill 1258, which would have created a task force to study the costs associated with enforcing drug laws, as well as the effects of investigating drug crimes and rehabilitating those convicted of drug crimes. Polis wrote in a letter explaining his veto that he rejected the measure because he said such a task force should also study the costs and risks of reducing such enforcement. He added that the study would have been an appropriate project for the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, which the House Judiciary Committee voted this year to disband. Polis said in his letter that he will soon take executive action to continue the commissions’ work and may present a request similar to what was in House BIll 1258 to that new panel.
  • House Bill 1259, which would have changed how open meetings law violations related to executive, or closed-door, meetings are handled. Typically, when a court finds a government entity in violation of Colorado’s open meetings laws, the person who brought a lawsuit challenging the actions is entitled to costs. House Bill 1259 would have created an exception so that plaintiffs who represent themselves in open meetings challenges aren’t awarded such fees. Polis wrote in a letter explaining his veto that the bipartisan bill could impede legitimate challenges to open meetings. “We should strive for increased transparency and accountability,” he wrote. The bill appeared to be aimed at addressing issues around school board executive sessions across the state, he added.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.