Gridlock could dog 2015 Colorado Legislature
The Associated Press
Here’s a look at what’s coming up as the Legislature opens:
Opening day will be marked by emotional farewells from departing lawmakers and ceremonial speeches by legislative leaders in each chamber. In the House, Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst of Boulder County will be taking over as speaker. She will be the second woman in Colorado history to hold that position. In the Senate, where Republicans are taking control for the first time in 10 years, GOP Sen. Bill Cadman of El Paso County will lead the chamber as president.
Also Wednesday, the first bills are introduced. Possible bills to look for include a proposal to ban powdered alcohol before it’s sold in stores, legislation to forbid schools from using Native American mascots unless they have permission from a tribe and a measure to repeal a law that limits the size of ammunition magazines to 15 rounds. It’s possible those bills will be introduced later, if not on the first day.
The legislative session will also be the first time in about a decade that lawmakers have to deal with refunds under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which calls for reimbursements to residents when revenue collections exceed a formula of inflation and population growth. For lawmakers to keep the money, the question must be referred to voters — a challenge given the split Legislature. Democrats have entertained the idea of asking voters to let government keep the money to continue restoring recession-era cuts, while Republicans say the refunds should go forward.
Another big debate involves whether any new regulations are needed over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Gov. John Hickenlooper assembled a task force to look at how to settle land-use clashes among homeowners, local governments and the energy industry. The task force’s charge is to give lawmakers recommendations, but whether anything happens remains to be seen.
DENVER — The legislative session that begins Wednesday in Colorado promises no shortage of juicy debates — from gun control and marijuana, to end-of-life decisions and new limits on oil and gas drilling.
But it’s an open question whether a Legislature sharply divided between Republicans and Democrats will manage to agree on those proposals.
After two years of Democratic control, the Legislature is newly divided. Republicans control the Senate by a single seat, and Democrats hold the House by just three seats.
“We’re spending a lot of time reaching across the aisle to find out, where are the places we can find common ground?” said incoming Senate President Bill Cadman, a Colorado Springs Republican.
Despite pre-session vows to compromise from Cadman and other legislative leaders, the Capitol’s narrow margins makes partisan gridlock hard to avoid.
Lawmakers are certain to finish work on a state budget and education spending plan, two measures they’re required to complete.
That doesn’t mean getting a spending plan to the governor’s desk will be easy. Colorado’s improving economy and spending restrictions mean lawmakers face a vigorous debate over what to do about the revenue windfall — either awarding it back to taxpayers through tax cuts and refunds as they are required by law, or garnering public support to ask voters to keep the surplus to shore up programs cut during the last recession.
Aside from the spending bills, it will be difficult for anything substantial to reach the desk of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.
All eyes will be on the new GOP Senate, where Republicans may try to repeal laws passed under Democrats the last two years. Among the likely targets for Republicans are gun-control measures passed in 2013, including a limit on the size of ammunition magazines, and a higher renewable energy standard for rural electricity providers.
The GOP wish list also includes additional scrutiny for Colorado state-run health insurance exchange, established to implement the federal health care law. Republicans may also take a crack at the Education Department’s new Common Core State Standards, a national school curriculum adopted in Colorado but unpopular with conservatives.
Democrats have different priorities. They’ll be pushing for measures to address income inequality, including college tuition and student-loan assistance and limiting interest rates on credit cards.
The goal, Democrats say, is to help a middle-class that is still hurting despite the economic recovery.
“They still are struggling to make ends meet. They aren’t able to save for retirement or for their kids’ future or for a rainy day,” said Democratic Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, the incoming House speaker.
House Democrats plan to push for a new law giving terminally ill people authority to end their lives. Other proposals include a new background-check requirement for volunteers in amateur youth sports, and forbidding public schools from using Native American mascots unless they have permission from a tribe.
But mostly, Democrats will be playing defense to protect the laws passed during the last couple years. For example, they will likely resist changes to the renewable-energy upgrade.
Asked about their plans for the term, Democrats from both chambers repeatedly say they’ll fight GOP efforts to strike contentious laws from the past.
“We will not roll back the tremendous amount of progress we made the last two years,” Hullinghorst said.
Perhaps a surprising area of agreement will be marijuana. Lawmakers from both parties say they’ll push to keep new taxes collected on recreational marijuana, even if lawyers say that means returning to voters this fall to ask permission. Lawmakers are almost certain to renew regulations on the medical marijuana industry, which sunset this year if legislators do nothing.
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