House speaker outlines agenda for 2006 legislative session |

House speaker outlines agenda for 2006 legislative session

Health care, jobs and education are the top topics on the Colorado House of Representatives’ agenda for next year’s 120-day legislative session, which begins Jan. 11.

Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, discussed his priorities for the session during a stop in Glenwood Springs after a meeting he attended in Aspen Monday afternoon.

“How do we strengthen the economy, improve public education, and how do we reduce the cost of health care instead of forcing families to use the emergency room?” he said. “The good news is that the passage of Referendum C makes some of the tasks a little bit easier.”

Health care is the House’s top priority for the legislative session, he said. Romanoff predicts prescription drug legislation will be introduced right away that will allow Colorado to pool its drug purchasing power with other states in order to pass lower prices to consumers. It’s a plan Republican Gov. Bill Owens vetoed last year, but Democrats are undeterred.

“We’re going to bring it back and override his veto,” Romanoff said, adding that other legislation could address insuring more children in order to reduce trips to the emergency room for basic health-care needs.

“By the end of the decade, I think it’s possible to say that every kid in Colorado should have health insurance,” he said.

The Legislature will soon take on the task of doling out Referendum C money, much of which was earmarked for public education. “I think Referendum C makes it easier for the schools to keep up with inflation and increases in student enrollment,” he said. “This is the big tough-love lesson for folks.”

He said that means that the state will keep up with the financial demands of Amendment 23, allowing the state to increase per-student funding by 1.1 percent. “That’s it,” he said. “That’s not lavish by any stretch, I think. But it’s better than cutting it.”

Jobs and the economy are the next items on the House’s agenda, Romanoff said, adding that enough Referendum C money will be allowed to flow into Colorado’s colleges and universities to prevent drastic cuts. Education, he said, forms the basis of a strong economy, which depends on an educated workforce.

Romanoff said part of building the economy is to become a world leader in renewable energy production, something that’s also tied into the quality of the state’s workforce. “We’re trying to put together with the private sector a package of initiatives that would take advantage of Colorado’s competitive edge, and helping employees reduce the cost of health care is part of that strategy,” he said.

Another economic factor the House is likely to consider is a sustainable solution to the state’s water shortage, something Glenwood Springs’ representative Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, is working on diligently, he said.

One of the challenges the House will face this session is encouraging cooperation between Democrats and Republicans in an election year, Romanoff said.

“I hope that we will take a hint from voters,” he said. “When they passed Referendum C, they said, in effect, bipartisanship works: ‘We want you to go to the capitol to solve problems, not point fingers or pick fights.'”

He said legislators must choose not to bicker and decide to get along so good policies can be made. There are “phony issues” that need to be avoided for that to be accomplished, he said, saying an amendment to Colorado’s constitution barring gays from being married is one of them.

The Denver Post reported Dec. 9 that an effort is under way to get such an amendment on the November 2006 ballot, even after Owens signed a bill in 2000 banning gay marriage.

Romanoff called such efforts a “distraction,” which stands in the way of getting other legislation passed.

“This is a state with real problems,” he said. “We don’t have the time to indulge every Right Wing fantasy that comes our way.”

Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, who represents western Garfield County, said Monday that Romanoff’s efforts to address health care are good ones, but he cautioned that legislation that seems to make good sense on the surface may be less attractive once the details are known.

White also agreed that “growing our own” well-educated workforce plays a primary role in strengthening the state’s economy.

He said he doubted that issues that Romanoff called “phony” will bog down the House, preventing other legislation from being passed. Those issues, White said, take up an “unrealistic” amount of “media time.” White said he’s confident the House will entertain a civil union or similar bill this session.

Despite 2006 being an election year, noteworthy bills will be considered and it will be politics as usual.

“It’s fairly typical during an election year for politics to raise their head more ugly than they do more typically,” White said.

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