DENVER – In the weeks leading up to the legislative session that begins Wednesday, leaders on both sides of the aisle in the Senate and the House have pledged civility in accord with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s directive to pass bills with bipartisan support.
Now that the Democrats control both chambers – and the governorship – the Kumbaya might end faster than the unanimous vote last May for the “civility and respect in the Colorado General Assembly” resolution introduced by Rep. John Kefalas (D-Fort Collins). At the time, Kefalas and Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) were embroiled in a shouting match. The Democrat was furious because the Republican leadership was blocking the same-sex unions bill from a final vote and predicted passage.
Another bill to legalize same-sex unions may be the first measure to sail through the legislature under the leadership of incoming House Speaker Mark Ferrandino of Denver. Whether or not it has bipartisan support, Hickenlooper has vowed to sign it into law.
The first openly gay House Speaker has not only made history, but he’s changed the layout of the office. Visitors to Ferrandino pass through the nursery of his and his partner’s 13-month-old foster daughter Lila, who he described as “amazing but exhausting” in tweets.
“It’s always important to work with everybody,” said Senate President John Morse (D-Colo. Springs), reeling off the nearly equal percentages of Democrat, Republican and independent registered voters in Colorado during a radio interview. The goal is to listen to everyone – “not just those in our party.”
“My philosophy in governing is cooperation,” Ferrandino has repeatedly told reporters. He plans to bring Republicans and Democrats to the table and find a consensus how to achieve shared goals. That will require a compromise, he said, but “that is what the legislature is supposed to do.”
Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs) said the Republican legislators will continue to pursue their goal to encourage job growth in the state.
“Constituents want to have a paycheck rather than an unemployment check,” said incoming House Minority Leader Mark Waller (R-Colorado Springs). “I look forward to working in a bipartisan manner but there will be a few contentious issues.”
Bills to legalize same-sex unions and set a lower tuition rate for illegal immigrant college students will likely pass with or without Republican lawmakers’ support, said Waller. “The Democrats don’t need us on those issues, and they will pass those.”
The governor and legislative leaders share concerns about the slow economic recovery and the need to expand economic development to create jobs, and improve public K-12 and higher education. But, how to achieve those goals is open to debate.
Ferrandino supports increased funding for public schools and establishing all-day kindergarten and half-day preschool for at-risk children. The Colorado Education Association teachers union is working with Democrat legislators to change the funding formula and ask voters to approve tax hikes to generate $2.75 billion.
The preliminary report of the governor’s To Be Determined (TBD) initiative, cited by Morse and Ferrandino, suggested a statewide mill levy increase for public schools – and to allow higher education facilities to ask local voters to approve bonds and tax increases. The latter has drawn some criticism from union members because it could create uneven funding levels.
The tragic shootings at an Aurora theater shooting in July and Sandy Creek Elementary School in Connecticut last month set off a wave of debate over banning assault weapons and high-capacity clips, extending background checks to include private sales – not just licensed dealers, and stepped up reporting to prevent mentally ill individuals from obtaining guns.
Democrats such as Rep. Claire Levy and Sen. Rollie Heath, both ofBoulderwant to amend the law creating gun-free zones in K-12 public schools to include higher education campuses but would allow concealed-carry permitted weapons.
Rep. Chris Holbert of Parker is among Republicans who contend gun-free zones advertise the vulnerability of public schools. They are interested in the concept of school districts choosing to have law enforcement officers – in plainclothes or uniform – on school grounds as a deterrent.
ObamaCare, to be implemented in 2014, gives states the option of expanding Medicaid for low-income individuals and families. Hickenlooper will ask the legislature to approve his plan to extend Medicaid coverage at a cost of $128 million over 10 years. The Kaiser Family Foundation and the Urban Institute, however, has estimated the cost could be $858 million.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission begins hearings today over regulated setbacks for oil and gas drilling from residential areas and schools. The current setback of 350 feet is likely to be increased to 500 feet – short of the 1,000-foot drilling-ban zone advocated by environmentalists and some legislators. The governor has so far advocated for consistent, statewide regulations – not a patchwork of local government controls.