COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. — Last Sunday, thousands gathered on the steps of the state capitol in Denver or drove around the capitol in their cars to protest Governor Jared Polis’ stay-at-home order for Colorado. The next day, Governor Polis announced plans to reopen the state beginning Monday April 27th and continuing in a “phased” approach called “Safer at home.” The media immediately ran with the story, claiming Colorado was reopening. Even Rush Limbaugh compared Colorado’s reopening with that of Georgia. But it’s not the same thing at all.
What the new order means
If fact, Colorado is not reopening. Colorado businesses will still be controlled under the heavy hand of state government, as will the citizenry.
The governor made it clear Wednesday that “that just because some businesses will reopen on Monday it does not mean the state will have a grand reopening.”
“I want to reiterate this is not anyway going back to normal,” Polis said. “It’s how we can have a sustainable life in May and beyond.”
On the Mandy Connell radio show Friday afternoon, the governor said that he is assembling an advisory body to manage things going forward.
Clearly, the governor does not intend to soon relinquish the powers to manage the Colorado economy that he assumed in March.
What is in the order
The governor’s slide deck from the briefing makes it crystal clear that the government still runs things in Colorado.
“Safer at home” means that people must remain at home as much as possible. They must leave only “for very specific tasks” and older adults “MUST stay at home unless necessary” [emphasis in the original]. If you choose to “recreate” outdoors it must be within 10 miles of your home.
He also makes it clear that “safer at home” does not constitute “a free-for-all” or “an opportunity to leave the house as much as possible and spread the virus to others.”
After 47 days in near-lockdown, imagining that most people leaving their homes are going to be spreading viruses is an absurd notion
Further, Governor Polis’ order does not constitute “an excuse to not wear a facial covering or hug or give a handshake.” Other caveats like this indicate that Polis, in short, still prohibits normal human interaction outside your own household.
Nightclubs, gyms and spas?
Nightclubs, gyms and spas remain closed. “Safer at home allows salons to open “with strict precautions.” In practice, these precautions seem to mean these businesses must open by appointment only.
Businesses may have 50% of their workforce working on site—with proper social distancing, of course.
Local jurisdictions may implement stronger rules, of course. But the appropriate local health authority must still approve any relaxation of the guidelines.
The government seems to have modeled “Safer-at-home” on Wisconsin Democrat Governor Evers’ order of the same name. Evers extended his order another month on Friday. Wisconsinites descended on the capitol in the thousands to protest.
The state of the State
In practice, Governor Polis continues to run the state. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment serves as the executive agent. This does not constitute a reopening.
Local media predictably side with the governor. Colorado Public Radio headlined a story titled “Officials Raise Concerns As State Heads Toward Patchwork of Orders.” But Colorado Publid Radio failed to mention the 43 executive orders the governor has issued since March 11th. Reuters wrote a headline story entitled, “‘Like test dummies’: As Colorado reopens, some see too much risk.” A Denver Post editorial stated that the plan is “charting a smart and sustainable course.”
Weld County has a different approach
Weld County released guidelines for businesses to reopen Monday which goes against Polis’ safer-at-home decree. Their guidelines include social distancing and proper cleaning.
Commissioner Scott James was quoted in the Coloradoan saying, “free people in a free country” can decide if they want to open their businesses or do business with companies that may or may not reopen…”
“Governor Polis stated that his orders aren’t enforceable,” Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer said.
But Polis has been inconsistent on the question of enforceability. On Monday, a reporter got confirmation from the governor that the safer-at-home plan was a recommendation, not an order.
“Yes, orders are awful,” Governor Polis said. But on Friday, he is widely reported as saying that Weld County did not apply to relieve any restrictions and he threatened to pull emergency funds from the county and as well as business licenses.
It appears that the word “guidelines” is the velvet glove that hides the iron fist of “orders.”
Does the governor have the authority?
Governor Polis has been citing CRS 24-33.5, Part 7, concerning emergency management as his authority to issue any of these orders. This gives the governor extraordinary powers during the period of a declared emergency.
Judge Andrew Napolitano, in an April 15 commentary published in the Washington Times, clearly lays out a key principle. Governors are always—including times of emergency—subject to the laws of their state and the Federal government. Which laws include all constitutional rights of the citizens.
Governor Polis has been playing fast and loose with the authority he has over the state’s reopening. Unless he’s called out on it, he will continue. Weld County has called him out. Time will tell whether other counties and the people themselves follow suit.
— Headline image: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis addresses the state on current coronavirus regulations.
YouTube video still via News9.