A legislative interim committee Monday voted against advancing a bill authorizing the opening of a Denver center where people could openly use illicit drugs under the supervision of workers trained in reversing overdoses after Gov. Jared Polis vowed to veto the measure.
“He is opposed to these drug-use sites,” Conor Cahill, a spokesman for the governor, said in a written statement.
Cahill added “there is great uncertainty nationally about the role of the federal government and how they would enforce these sites that are already operating in other states.”
Polis, a Democrat, had previously been vague about his position on the proposal. The governor refused to take a public position on the sites as recently as last month, when he dodged a Colorado Sun question at SunFest about whether he could ever support legislation authorizing the centers.
“I do support efforts to end homelessness, reduce homelessness – make Colorado safer,” Polis said. “And we look forward to the state being a partner with our mayors in doing that.”
Polis’ firm opposition effectively means the so-called overdose prevention centers, sometimes called harm reduction or safe-use sites, won’t be allowed in Colorado until at least after his term ends in January 2027. The sites are also meant to provide counseling and access to substance abuse treatment services.
The news of Polis’ veto promise was announced Monday at an Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Study Committee before the panel voted against advancing a draft measure authorizing the centers to the full legislature for consideration. Interim panels, like the Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Study Committee, operate when the full legislature isn’t in session and are meant to more thoroughly draft and vet legislation but cannot send measures to the governor on their own.
Two Democrats on the committee, Sen. Kyle Mullica and Rep. Mary Young, joined the four Republicans on the panel in voting against advancing the draft bill to the full legislature. Mullica cast one of the deciding voters earlier this year rejecting a similar measure in the General Assembly.
“I’m not going to be able to support this bill,” said Mullica, who lives in Thornton. “But I really, truly appreciate the conversations.”
Young, who lives in Greeley and represents a swing district, said her vote was in response to how her constituents perceive the bill.
The vote to reject advancing the measure was six against and four in support.
State Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy, a Lakewood Democrat and chair of the interim committee, said he was “incredibly disappointed” that the draft bill, modeled after a law enacted in Rhode Island, wasn’t going to move forward.
“I’m grateful for the very serious conversations that have happened,” he said.
Proponents of the measure can still introduce the bill in the legislature next year when state lawmakers reconvene from January through early May, but that now appears certain to draw a veto from Polis should the bill pass.
Overriding a veto takes a supermajority of support from members of each the House and Senate, which the proposal almost certainly doesn’t have.