Going into this year’s legislative session, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle insist that their next 120 days of work will focus on jobs and the economy.
But the reality is that Democrats and Republicans will spend a good portion of their time refighting old battles inside the Capitol.
Polarizing issues from last year’s session — rural energy mandates; oil and gas industry regulations; election reform; and, yes, gun control — will be debated again.
It’s enough to make Yogi Berra proud, because a good portion of this year’s session will seem like deja vu all over again.
“When you look at the outcry from the last session, there are some things that need to be looked at again,” said Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs. “And we will have an opportunity to fix them.”
Republicans will sponsor bills that seek to undo a Democrat-sponsored gun control package that was placed into law following last year’s session. The package led to new laws that created universal background checks on gun sales; limited the amount of ammunition that a high-capacity magazine can hold; and restricted domestic violence offenders’ access to guns.
But Democratic leaders aren’t interested in having the same gun debates from last session, ones that led to emotionally-charged testimony and marathon committee hearings and floor votes.
“We’re ready to move forward in Colorado and solve the problems that people are telling us we need to solve,” said House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver. “We don’t need to rehash the same fights we fought over last year.”
But Democrats won’t have much a choice. Besides gun legislation, Cadman said that his party will introduce bills that seek “fixes” to an election reform bill last session, one that created same-day voter registration in Colorado.
Also, look for a bill from House Republicans that would scale back legislation signed into law last year, which doubled the renewable-energy mandate for rural electric cooperatives.
“Since it passed, the passion from the people in rural Colorado about how it’s going to be detrimental to them has not let up,” said House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland. “If the rural peoples’ voice is wanting to be beard, I hope that Ferrandino and his crew will at least take a look at that.”
The House GOP will introduce a slate of bills that would reduce regulations on small businesses and will focus on helping economies in rural communities, DelGrosso said.
DelGrosso said that last year’s session was more “left-centric” than what Coloradans had bargained for. He said that voters’ resentment over major pieces of Democrat-sponsored legislation was apparent during the recall election losses by Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Angela Giron of Pueblo. Evie Hudak of Westminster resigned rather than face her own recall attempt.
“I think some of the gun debate obviously started that, but I think overall the folks that were voting in the recall election were like, ‘I don’t think the people representing us were focusing on us,’” DelGrosso said.
Ferrandino rejects that assertion. He said that gun background checks are working and that the voices among Colorado’s rural community are being heard. The House speaker pointed to legislation passed last year that provided grants to help rural communities diversify their economies and a separate bill that created a health and social services center inside Bent County’s Fort Lyon Correctional Facility.
Ferrandino also reminded his Republican colleagues that debate was never cut off last year, on any issue.
“I’ve made a concerted effort to make sure everybody has a voice,” the House speaker said. “Just because you don’t get your way doesn’t mean your voice isn’t being heard. While it’s a good talking point for the other side, the facts don’t support that assertion.”
Ferrandino said that the first priority of the House will be to work on flood and wildfire legislation, which should come with strong bipartisan support.
Senate President Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, said the first bill out the Senate aims to curb escalating college tuition costs that are “crippling a generation of opportunity for kids.” Carroll also previewed legislation that seeks reduce the financial burden on parents for child care costs.
Carroll said that she expects legislation on oil and gas industry regulations. She said there is “a good chance” that the Senate will pass legislation that died last year, which would raise fines on companies for toxic spills.
Carroll is not naïve to the new reality in the Senate. Because of the recall election efforts, her party’s majority has been reduced to a single vote. She is hopeful that Senate Republicans will support many Democratic bills, but acknowledges that some battles will be difficult.
“The 18-17 vote really matters,” she said.
Carroll hopes the two sides can move beyond partisan politics this session.
“The people really are sick of bickering,” she said. “They’re sick of partisan mudslinging. They’re tired of excuses. They frankly don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to know who is to blame for what; they just want us to get the job done.”
Meanwhile, Cadman insists that his party isn’t over-estimating Coloradans’ “outcry” from last year, by trying to undo laws that are already on the books.
“We’re not proposing legislation based on reactions,” he said. “We are proposing legislation based on fixing the things we think (Democrats) did wrong. So it’s not a popularity contest. This about doing what we feel is right and, frankly, correcting what we feel was wrong. Period.”