Colorado's state legislature finished its work for the year Wednesday afternoon. In the end, a session marked by late nights and big fights wrapped up on a calmer note, with lawmakers zipping through their final votes, before breaking for the next eight months.
The following is a transcript of Megan Verlee's report:
Reporter Megan Verlee: During some of the most contentious debates of the session, lawmakers argued into the wee hours over detailed points of policy. But by 3:30 yesterday afternoon, that was all behind them. The last bills had passed or died, the final ceremonial actions were complete, and it was time for the motion everyone in the Capitol was waiting for.
Rep. Dickie Lee Hullinghorst, House Majority Leader [D-Gunbarrel]: “I move the House adjourn, sine die!”
Reporter: It’s hard to describe how just busy the session was. Lobbyists who’ve been around for decades say it was the most exhausting they remember. Republican Representative Kevin Priola has a different way of marking the workload; well before the session ended he’d run out of room for bills in his filing cabinet.
Rep. Kevin Priola [R-Henderson]: "Previous years, bills would be five, ten, maybe twenty pages. This year the legislation we were dealing with was 20 pages minimum, 100 pages a lot of them."
Reporter: There were a lot of big bills, both in terms of pages and policy. From gun control and civil unions early on, to election changes and immigrant drivers licenses toward the end, not to mention marijuana and oil and gas regulations throughout, Democrats advanced a lot of policies over the strenuous objections of Republicans. The result is that members of the two parties ended the session feeling very different about what they’d just done. On the one side, Democrats like Representative Angela Williams and Senator Jessie Ulibarri.
Sen. Jessie Ulibarri [D-Denver]: “This year we were able to tackle big issues that have been elusive for other sessions.”
Rep. Angela Williams [D-Denver]: “I think we can really impactfully see the differences that we made.”
Reporter: On the other side, Republicans like Senator Steve King and Representative Lori Saine.
Sen. Steve King [R-Grand Junction]: “This was the most challenging session of my career.”
Rep Lori Sain [R-Dacono]: “I felt like I was in a passenger compartment of a runaway train."
Reporter: It wasn’t just lawmakers who felt the toll of a busy session. Capitol lobbyists say that with so many complex, high-profile policies in play, it was hard to get lawmakers’ attention for anything else. Totsy Rees, who represents business interests, says the partisan fights bled into other other areas.
Totsy Rees, lobbyist: "It’s been more emotional than pragmatic maybe? You want people to make logical, thoughtful decisions and not go off because of they are perhaps angry at the vote that happened just before."
Reporter: While it was hard to miss the fighting between Democrats and Republicans, a third player also helped shape the session: Governor John Hickenlooper. When some Democrats tried to repeal the death penalty early in the session, Hickenlooper warned he might veto it. The bill failed. His office also took a very active role in Democrats’ oil and gas bills. The result? Nothing the governor objects to survived to reach his desk. Democrat Mike Foote of Lafayette sponsored some of those doomed bills. He says it would have been hard enough to overcome lobbying by the industry, without the governor getting involved.
Rep. Mike Foote [D-Lafayette]: "It’s one thing to fight with one arm tied behind your back. But when you’re fighting with two arms behind your back, that’s a different story."
Reporter: Foote is among the more than 30 lawmakers who were new to the legislature this year. It was possibly the largest freshman class ever, and they faced a steep learning curve. Republican Lori Saine says the expression, “drinking from a firehose,” sums up her first session well.
Rep. Saine: "I think I’m prepared for anything now, after a session like this, where there’s just so much."
Reporter: Saine and her colleagues are already preparing for next session. It may be eight months away, but as legislators prepared to adjourn Wednesday, many admitted they’ve already got bills in mind for next year.