DENVER – When the legislative session kicks off Wednesday, Democrat and Republican lawmakers will echo last year’s pledge of bipartisanship to create jobs and ensure economic revitalization which turned out to be anything but a Kumbaya.
“WE THE PEOPLE: TOGETHER WE WILL BUILD A STRONGER COLORADO,” said Senate President-elect Morgan Carroll in unveiling her list of Democrat legislative priorities this year.
“It is time to put partisan attacks behind us and come together in our shared goal of continuing Colorado’s economic, educational and disaster recovery,” added Carroll, repeating assurances made last year by now ex-Senate President John Morse, who wound up losing his seat when he was recalled by his constituents.
After that peace promise last year, Democrats swiftly declared war on Republicans, passing several divisive and ideological bills.
In the 2014 session, legislation to help communities recover from September floods may be a “shared goal,” but other bills will likely spark fierce debate.
Democrats Carroll and House Speaker Mark Ferrandino and Republicans Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman and House Minority Leader Brian Delgrosso will deliver opening day speeches, giving Coloradans a clearer vision of each side’s legislative strategy and priorities.
Republican lawmakers plan to introduce legislation to roll back contentious measures signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper last year. Those include gun control, green energy mandates imposed on rural communities last year, highly controversial changes to Colorado’s election laws, a nearly $1 billion tax hike to fund public education changes, and legislation giving illegal immigrants access to driver’s licenses and special tuition discounts.
Republicans argue that nearly all had a negative impact on Coloradans, job creation and the economy – and want to repeal or amend some of those laws this year. But, Democrats Carroll and Ferrandino have dug their heels in – and will fight Republican-proposed changes, particularly on gun control.
Democrats shot down Republican lawmakers and constituents who opposed seven gun-control measures in 2013, including a ban on standard magazines that hold more than 15 ammunition rounds and new fees and background checks for sales and transfers of weapons. Though two bills in the Democrats controversial gun control package were withdrawn, citizens were so outraged that they recalled Democrats Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo, and forced Sen. Evie Hudak of Westminster to resign.
Republican Senators Bernie Herpin and George Rivera, elected to replace Morse and Giron, reportedly plan to introduce legislation to rollback or repeal the magazine ban and overreaching background check requirements and fees.
During a press conference last week, Ferrandino said Coloradans don’t want the legislature “to rehash the same partisan fights.”
Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate will introduce bills to ease the requirement imposed by curb a bill passed by Democrats last year that doubled the green energy mandate to 20 percent in rural Colorado. The cost in increased utility bills is expected to place new economic hardships on farmers, ranchers and communities still suffering from the ongoing effects of the recession.
Cadman said the law is “probably the one that’s generating the most outcry from rural folks.” But, Carroll disagreed and apparently doesn’t see the need to amend the law. There are concerns about rising utility rates, conceded Carroll, but people haven’t objected to increased renewable energy mandates.
Oil & Gas Development
Democrats are working on measures to increase regulations on oil and gas development according to Carroll and House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst (D-Longmont). The bills would make it easier for local governments to enact stricter regulations on hydraulic fracturing than state laws, use state taxpayer money to fund health and environmental studies of oil and gas drilling, and increase fines for public-safety violations.
“I couldn’t support a statewide fracking ban. I think that’s the wrong approach,” Hullinghorst told reporters.
A nationally funded group of anti-fracktivists plan to gather signatures for a November ballot initiative to ban fracking statewide and will receive help from Democracy in Action’s MoveOn.org that hired several field directors in Colorado last month.
Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected a union-backed, $1 billion income tax hike and redistribution of funding for public education to assist school districts with higher at-risk students, defined as those from low income families and who cannot speak English, and subsidize preschool for eligible students.
According to Carroll of Aurora and Senate President Lucia Guzman of Denver, Democrat lawmakers plan to push bills to increase school district funding, allocate more money to educate students who do not speak English and provide increased government subsidies and tax rebates for childcare.
Democrat legislators want $101.3 million for job-training to assist students in obtaining jobs and cap tuition hikes at 6 percent a year. However, higher education institutions have been smacked by increased health benefit costs imposed by ObamaCare and the Colorado Health Exchange.
Democrats, whose campaigns have been heavily funded by unions, will likely sponsor bills to offset those costs by sponsoring bills for a 3 percent payroll hike and state-funding to cover insurance costs, measures promoted by Colorado WINS, the state employee union.
Wild Card Legislation
Repeal of the death penalty: Democrats Senators Carroll and Guzman with Reps. Jovan Melton of Aurora and Claire Levy of Boulder, who resigned in October, sponsored a bill last year to repeal the death penalty but withdrew it after Hickenlooper hinted at a veto.
An effort to repeal capital punishment failed by a single vote in the state Senate after clearing the state House a few years ago, but the death penalty continues to enjoy public support among Coloradans, according to recent surveys.
Election Reform: Democrats rammed through a controversial bill that critics argue conflicts with the state Constitution, promotes voter fraud and weakened the integrity of state elections. They point to Broomfield as an example, where several lawsuits and complaints are pending in the wake of an election replete with irregularities and problems.
Colorado’s awkward green, triangle logo: Hickenlooper’s economic development office spent nearly $1 million for a new state logo that, when unveiled, met with a massive thumbs-down reaction. The governor’s office spent thousands more on reproducing and promoting the logo that some described as a “toxic warning” symbol. Apparently Rep. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale) heard the complaints – he’s sponsoring a bill to halt logo production and let statewide voters decide whether to keep or kill the logo.