Looking Back at the Legislature
Ask a Colorado lawmaker to sum up the session that just finished and “mixed results” might be the phrase you’d hear. With the session over, legislators are looking back on their accomplishments, and failures.
Senate Republican leader Mike Kopp led off his day-after press conference with an interesting figure.
KOPP: "This year we had fewer bills passed than we had in the past 10 years."
This session actually produced around 120 fewer laws than last year’s. There’s one simple reason for that: with Republicans now running the House and Democrats in charge of the Senate, every bill that made it through had to have bipartisan support. Governor John Hickenlooper says that was hard on lawmakers.
HICKENLOOPER: "Several people came up to me yesterday, legislators, and described how distressed they were that certain of their bills had been tanked or torpedoed or set adrift. And what I kept saying was, 'well, you’ve got five or six bills. Maybe the best goal is each legislator get two bills that are really relevant and important.' "
Indeed, there were only two bills this entire session that everyone said lawmakers had to pass -- the state budget and a redistricting plan. In the end though they only agreed on one of them.
For leaders of both parties, the budget deal seemed to mark a high tide moment in the session; one agreement everyone was happy to take credit for. Republicans said they’re pleased with the deep cuts in the budget. Democrats celebrated their role in reducing one of those cuts -- cushioning the blow to K-12 education by about a 100-million dollars. For Hickenlooper, the triumph was to keep both sides negotiating.
HICKENLOOPER: "Any time you’re dealing with a budget and making significant cuts, people become emotionally engaged. We saw that up close and personal. You know, I thought it was no worse than some of the tough city budgets we had."
If the budget was the session’s high point, redistricting was its low. Lawmakers couldn’t agree on a new Congressional map, but they did agree on how they felt about it -- disappointed with a process leaders of both parties called a failure.
While they shared the disappointment in not passing a new Congressional map, the parties are also licking their wounds over partisan defeats. For Democrats, those included a bill to lower college tuition for undocumented students and a push to create civil unions. Representative Mark Ferrandino sponsored that bill and says he’s already working to bring it back next year.
FERRANDINO: "You might not win one year, but you keep fighting for it. As the famous quote goes, the arc of history bends towards justice and we moved that arc a little closer. Next year hopefully we can bend it that much closer and hopefully pass civil unions. If not, we’ll keep on trying."
For Republicans, many of the failures came with bills to cut regulations and lower taxes on companies. They tried unsuccessfully to create "business impact statements" to lay out the possible effects of new regulations. Senate Minority Leader Kopp also pushed to create a task force to look for efficiencies throughout state government.
KOPP: "We did not make a serious attempt, the legislature, to reform our bureaucracy here, which we need to do. We did not make a serious attempt to reform our regulatory structures. We need to reform the way that we do government. We can’t just continue to kind of keep everything Bandaid-ed together."
Kopp says he wishes he’d gotten more help with that effort from Govenor Hickenlooper, who’s expressed many similar goals. In general, though, all of the legislature’s leaders say they’re pleased with how the governor handled his first session. It was a much more hands-off approach than his predecessor; Hickenlooper focused on facilitating negotiations over pushing specific policies.
The governor says he spent much of the session just getting his legs under him, but found the role familiar.
HICKENLOOPER: "I re-learned the lessons that you learned in the restaurant business. When someone’s upset, you listen very carefully. And try to find what would be a satisfactory resolution. If you can’t give them what they want, what else can you provide that will mitigate their unhappiness? "
Both Republicans and Democrats are walking away from this session of the legislature without a lot of things they wanted. They now have eight months to think about how to get more accomplished next session.
**The on-air version of this story incorrectly identified Senator Renfroe's first name. It is Scott.**
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