Colo. legislative leaders lay out priorities for year ahead

(Photo: CPR/Megan Verlee)
Photo: House Speaker Mark Ferrandino and Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst
Democratic Colorado House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, left, and Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst.

From gun policy to education reform to election laws, Republicans and Democrats are poised to fight over many of the same issues this year that made the last legislative session so intense.

Republican leaders say they intend to revisit some of last year’s most divisive policies, going after the Democrats' chief trophies from the 2013 session.

There are bills in the works to either repeal or revise the state's new gun control laws, the recent overhaul of its election system and the increased renewable energy mandate for rural utilities.

"We think they are wrong," House Minority Leader Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs) said about the laws. "This is going to give them an opportunity to correct an error that they made. Will they take advantage of it? To be determined."

Those efforts, however, are unlikely to gain much traction in either chamber: Democrats hold a 37-28 majority in the House.

And while two recall elections last year pared down their advantage in the Senate, Democrats have hung on by a slender, one-vote lead.

Incoming Senate President Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora) doesn't support revisiting either of the most controversial of the new gun control bills, which require background checks for all gun sales and limit ammunition magazines to 15 rounds.

"It’s working," Carroll said when asked why she wouldn't support a repeal of the background checks law.

Carroll pointed to a number of would-be private buyers who were flagged by the state's database during background checks.

Legislative Democrats won't just be playing defense next session as they want to tackle rising college tuition and child care costs, as well as find ways to develop key industries in the state.

"We’re now the beneficiary of a pretty hot economy in Colorado and that economy’s coming back very quickly," House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst (D-Gunbarrel) said at a press conference Friday. "But we want to make sure that that economy works for the people that suffered the most in the recession, and that’s primarily the middle class."

Bipartisan Possibilities

While many of next session's debates are likely to be loud and bitter, Republicans and Democrats are also highlighting areas where they are trying to work together.

Leaders of both parties said aiding victims of last year’s floods and wildfires is a top priority.

A bipartisan Flood Disaster Study Committee is working on legislation to help victims with their property taxes and boost funding for damaged schools and infrastructure, measures that are likely to gain widespread support.

Education reform is also on the agenda for both parties: After the defeat of Amendment 66 last November, which would have raised taxes to fund a slew of new education policies, House Republicans announced they wanted to find ways to achieve some of the same goals without spending more money.

"We’ve come out and put together a package of bills to say, we’re going to do it within existing resources," House Minority leader Brian DelGrosso (R-Loveland) said. "Now [Democrats] are coming back after the fact and saying 'Well, maybe that is a good idea.'"

Among the policies being discussed are ways to make school spending more transparent and to help immigrant students learn English.