New Session Starts Under the Golden Dome

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Colorado Public Radio’s Megan Verlee was at the Capitol as state lawmakers began the new legislative session Wednesday. Her report is below.

We also asked a few legislators which of their bills they're most excited about at the start of the session. A montage of their answers, ranging from letting parents buy their underage children a drink in a restaurant to allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons in schools, follows Megan's audio story.

Here is a transcript of Megan's report:

Reporter Megan Verlee: The day started with all the usual pomp and ceremony. Lawmakers, with their families and friends in tow, crowded both chambers for the many rituals that accompany the opening of the session. In his first speech after taking over as head of the House, Speaker Mark Ferrandino praised the role of the state legislature.

Mark Ferrandino: "It is our job to keep an open mind and a willingness to bend, if just a little, for the good of the whole. It is our job to question our preconceived notions. If you’re having trouble questioning your own opinions, talk to someone on the other side of the aisle, who will happily assist you." [laughter]

Reporter: Democrats won’t necessarily have to do much reaching across the aisle though; after the November election they hold solid majorities in both chambers. And some in the party are already talking about using that power to tackle controversial issues like gun control, the death penalty, workers' rights, and hydraulic fracturing. House Minority Leader Mark Waller says his party will put up a fight if Democrats go too far.

Mark Waller: "I mean, obviously if they push legislation that does not create opportunity for Coloradans or in some way inhibits opportunity for Coloradans, absolutely we’re going to oppose that legislation."

Reporter: One sign of the new Democratic control: Republican leaders are sounding resigned that two bills they killed last year are sure to pass now - civil unions and a lower tuition rate for undocumented immigrant students. Senate minority leader Bill Cadman:

Bill Cadman: "If they’re going to pass, with the numbers they have, then they’re going to pass. So my inclination is, they will come quickly, they will go quickly, and we will move on."

Reporter: The new General Assembly sworn in this week is unusual in many ways. Mark Ferrandino is Colorado’s first openly gay Speaker of the House. The state has the largest percentage of female legislators in the country and is tied for the most openly gay lawmakers. Five legislators are African-American, twelve are Latino. This session is also notable for its inexperience. More than a third of the lawmakers who raised their hands for the pledge of allegiance Wednesday are new to their offices. Representative Jared Wright is one of them. The Mesa County Republican did serve as a legislative aide in the past, so he had a leg up on some of his fellow freshmen.

Jared Wright: "I knew where the restrooms were at in the building and all those tourist type things. But still, it’s different, actually being in the seat. It’s certainly a big honor, and an honor that needs to be upheld on my part."

Reporter: That’s a sense of responsibility legislative leaders hope to encourage. Senate President John Morse made it the theme of his opening day speech. Afterward, he said he wants Coloradans to be proud of their legislature, even when they don’t agree with its policies.

John Morse: "I want to make sure that we do our work in such a way that there are ah-ha moments for the public on a regular basis, where it’s like, those folks really get it and they’re working hard to get it right."

Reporter: Lawmakers have a lot of work ahead of them, tackling all the issues on the agenda from now until the session wraps up in May.

[Photo: CPR/MVerlee]