Ritter wraps up session with action on veterans, health care | PostIndependent.com

Ritter wraps up session with action on veterans, health care

Associated Press Writer
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

DENVER (AP) ” Gov. Bill Ritter signed the last handful of bills awaiting his decision on Monday, wrapping up a 2007 legislative session that some analysts are calling one of the smoothest in years.

Ritter went to Colorado Springs to sign bills providing more help to the families of military servicemen and women and to address rural health care needs.

Before the session ended May 4, Ritter was also able to get his renewable energy package passed, carrying out a campaign pledge. He also won approval for bills on health care, public education and transportation, measures he said were needed to encourage the state’s fledgling renewable-energy economy.

Ritter also survived a few controversies. He vetoed a bill that would have made it easier for unions to form closed shops, although he had promised to support it. He said business leaders should have had more of a voice in the debate before it passed.

Ritter also vetoed a bill that critics said would have made it easy for illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses. Democrats had said that bill could come back to haunt them in next year’s elections because it made them look soft on illegal immigration.

In his veto message last week, Ritter accepted responsibility for shortcomings in the driver’s license bill, saying his administration had not made clear “my strongly held belief that a legislative fix is not the proper remedy to this problem.” He said it was the governor’s duty to make the rules on identity documents.

Political consultant Katie Atkinson said Ritter’s turnabout on both bills will have a lasting impact next year when Democrats try to retain control of the House and the Senate. She said Ritter will have to work to regain Democrats’ trust if he wants them to support his legislation.

“He’s got some problems that will come back to haunt him,” said Atkinson.

Independent pollster Floyd Ciruli said Ritter also made waves with his proposal to freeze property tax mill levies to raise more money for public schools, a plan Republicans blasted as a hidden tax hike, and his decision to form study committees on major issues like health care and transportation, deferring action until next year.

“This was not an ambitious agenda,” Ciruli said.

Atkinson said this year’s session was one of the smoothest in decades because Democrats controlled both the Legislature and the governor’s mansion for the first time in 44 years, and because it was tough for Republicans to oppose renewable energy. She said many bills in Ritter’s program passed with bipartisan support.

House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, said Ritter vetoed only seven bills, compared with 44 bills vetoed by GOP Gov. Bill Owens last year and a record 47 the previous year.

Romanoff said Ritter’s vetoes didn’t affect any major parts of the Democratic agenda.

“I would be more concerned if I thought we had missed opportunities on education or health care or renewable energy,” Romanoff said.

Romanoff said he is drafting legislation for next year that will ask voters to fix conflicts among constitutional amendments that limit tax increases while requiring increased funding for public schools.

Romanoff said the conflicts force lawmakers to use “Band-Aids” every year to provide needed state services, and he wants to find a permanent solution.

The four veterans bills Ritter signed Monday will provide mental health treatment for the families of recently discharged veterans, set up a new Air Force Reserve license plate, provide aid to students of military dependents and set up military family relief fund grants.

The three health care bills will set up a panel to study rural health care needs and make it easier for health professionals to repay education loans if they work in underserved areas.

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