DENVER– Keenly aware of Democrats controlling both the state House and Senate, Gov. John Hickenlooper asked legislators for bills with biparatisan support – but his State of the State address was loaded with a left-leaning agenda that few Republican legislators will likely endorse.
“Our record of addressing difficult problems together makes it possible to discuss gun violence and mental health,” said Hickenlooper of the tragic shooting in an Aurora theater last July. “There are no easy solutions.”
“Some point to guns, others to a violent culture. Still others believe that the line between community security and individual freedom must be redrawn,” he said. “Our democracy demands this debate.”
“Why not have universal background checks for all gun sales?” asked Hickenlooper.
That rhetorical question drew a boisterous, standing ovation Thursday from Democrat representatives and senators. Across the aisle Republican lawmakers remained seated.
There were hints of Hickenlooper shifting on his previous commitment to honoring 2nd Amendment rights. In December, he said it was time to talk, and Wednesday, he was one of a dozen governors on a conference call with Vice President Joe Biden to plan gun control measures.
“While the proposal to required background checks sounds sensible, it is actually the most intrusive government regulation of gun owners ever conceived, short of outright confiscation,” declared state Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray).
“I do not think the governor understands just how serious a threat this action is to gun owners,” Brophy told TCO. “If this proposal was fully implemented, I wouldn’t be able to loan a shotgun to a nephew to take hunting.”
The governor “stated the obvious – that we’re going to see a gun control debate,” Colorado Attorney General John Suthers told an Associated Press reporter. “I frankly didn’t there were a whole lot of specifics. And that lack of specifics is where the debate is really going to be.”
Background checks are performed on gun sales by dealers at stores and gun shows, but not required for private sales – and potentially gifts, loans and inheritances.
Unknown is how sweeping the universal background checks would be, how the law would be enforced, what penalties would be imposed and how the program would be funded.
Would those with concealed carry weapon (CCW) permits, who have already passed background checks, be subject to rechecks with each gun purchase?
“We can’t afford a government that big. And frankly it’s a government we don’t want,” Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs) told a reporter.
Asked about the funding mechanism, Brophy told TCO that the democrats will likely add a fee to the background check system.
“That is disappointing as ownership is a fundamental right and, like voting, should not be taxed,” said Brophy.
Democrats as state Rep. Claire Levy of Boulder have stated their support for universal background checks as well as “restricting sales of high capacity gun magazines and clips.”
Hickenlooper asserted that “Second Amendment advocates and gun control supporters can find common ground in support of this proposition: Let’s examine our laws and make changes needed to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.”
To keep dangerous individuals from obtaining guns, Hickenlooper asked the legislature to support a bill to “make it easier to identify people with mental illness who are a danger to themselves and others, and provide safer, more humane systems for treatment.”
The proposal has generally been well received, but lawmakers will want specifics about the criteria for reporting, court procedures and standards, mental health treatment and costs.
Hickenlooper also asked the legislators to pass bills legalizing same-sex unions and lower college tuition for illegal immigrant students – both measures are expected pass, but not necessarily with Republicans’ support.
The governor said his main goal is economic development and job creation – and suggested his Economic Development Council identified 7,500 rules, half of which he plans to repeal or modify. However, Hickenlooper also asked legislators to support reforming enterprise zones.
“I know from my own days of opening businesses that enterprise zones help, especially when you are trying to grow,” said Hickenlooper. “But it’s time to update the rules… so that we are both fair to taxpayers and responsible in extending benefits to support development.”
But the governor’s agenda included a few goals that may not win Democrat lawmakers’ aye votes. Two examples are stricter standards for marijuana DUI enforcement, and statewide regulations for oil and gas exploration instead of a patchwork of differing local laws.
Throughout Hickenlooper’s speech, he cited the To Be Determined (TBD) initiative outcomes as reasons for legislation – including increased funding for infrastructure and education. TBD was originally touted as a privately-funded, statewide listening tour, but in fact was under the direction of the governor’s EDC office.
TBD participants were shown videos on key issues – all called for tax increases – and then surveyed. The survey questions, however, were not consistent throughout the state.
For example, Denver County respondents discussed scrapping the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR), the Gallagher Amendment and Amendment 23 for public school funding – and instead asking voters to approve a statewide school mill levy for education. El Paso County participants didn’t discuss TABOR at all.
But some say the final goal on Hickenlooper’s agenda revealed that “To Be Determined” might actually have been “predetermined” in its goals.
“This statewide outreach also showed that when presented in nonpartisan facts and the chance to talk about how our budget and tax rules work, Coloradans came to the conclusion that the state is on an unsustainable fiscal course,” said Hickenlooper, echoing the TBD message.
“TABOR, the Gallagher Amendment and Amendment 23 shouldn’t be viewed in isolation,” declared Hickenlooper. “They create a fiscal knot that can’t be untied one strand at a time.”
“Efforts to rewrite the School Finance Act would be well-served to take this into consideration,” said the governor of the sweeping repeal approach.