Polis’ veto vow kills bill that would allow supervised sites for illegal drug use

Gov. Jared Polis stopped at the Vail Daily office in September for a sitdown with newsroom staff on his way to Grand Junction. With voters across the state rejecting Proposition HH, Polis and the Democratic-controlled legislature will go back to the drawing board on property tax relief.
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A draft bill that would have allowed the opening of a center in Denver where people could do illegal drugs and be treated for an overdose, sometimes called an “overdose prevention” or “safe injection” site, failed to move forward after Gov. Jared Polis said he would veto it if it were approved by the state legislature. 

The bill was originally drafted to allow any local government to approve the sites under certain state-level guardrails. On Monday, it was amended to only apply to Denver. 

The legislature’s interim committee on Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders developed the draft policy over the summer, basing it on a law enacted in Rhode Island. During a meeting Monday, they voted not to advance it any further after it was announced that Polis wasn’t on board.

Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy, the chair of the committee and an ardent supporter of the bill, said he had learned of Polis’ position the previous week.

“I’m obviously disappointed,” said the Lakewood Democrat. “I intend to continue conversations with the governor to try to persuade him with some of the information that has circulated to this committee throughout the summer.”

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The committee members, a mix of supporters and opponents of the bill, initially approved the broader version of the draft bill to be developed. The interim committee is designed to study issues, draft legislation and decide whether to forward those drafts to another committee before they can be considered by the full legislature. 

In Monday’s meeting, before they rejected it, a majority of the committee members amended the draft to limit it to only allowing one pilot program in Denver. 

Beyond treatment for overdoses, the centers would have also provided a connection to substance-abuse treatment services and counseling. 

Earlier this year, a similar bill failed in the state legislature after several Democrats voted against it. 

Two Democrats, Sen. Kyle Mullica from Thornton and Rep. Mary Young from Greeley voted with the four Republicans on the interim committee to reject the bill. Mullica, who also cast a decisive “no” vote on a similar bill earlier this year, said he felt there had been progress made on the concept but that he still couldn’t support it. 

This wasn’t the first time Polis has voiced opposition to the bill — he also spoke out against it during this year’s legislative session. 

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“Governor Polis has been clear with Coloradans and the legislature that he is opposed to these drug use sites,” said Conor Cahill, a spokesperson for the governor’s office said in a written statement.

Lawmakers could still introduce a bill allowing the sites during the next lawmaking session, which begins in January and lasts 120 days. But Polis’ vocal opposition means it’s unlikely to move forward. To override the governor’s veto, the legislature would need a two-thirds majority vote from each chamber. 

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