Lawmakers open 2015 session agreeing on education funding, but not on TABOR

January 7, 2015

Economic opportunity, education funding, business development: Whatever issues you care about, there’s a good chance the 70th Colorado General Assembly will try to do something about them in the coming months.

The lawmakers convened Wednesday with Democrats still in the majority in the House. But the Senate is now under Republican control, for the first time in a decade. Compromise will be key to getting bills passed.

The parties do seem to be on the same page in at least a few big areas, including boosting school funding and expanding workforce development programs. 

However, Senate President Bill Cadman brought an agenda that also includes more polarizing ideas, like cutting regulations on business.  

"Rolling back costly, useless regulations will make us more competitive. And if we are not sharpening our competitive edge in every place we can, we are losing it in every place we don’t," said, while also warning of coming fights over what the state should do with its growing state tax revenue.

"We are about to face one of the best problems we have had in this legislature in a long time. It’s called prosperity," Cadman said.

As soon as this year, Colorado may start sending money back to residents, as required by the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. Senate Republicans have said those refunds must go out. But Some Democrats want to ask voters to instead put the money into full-day kindergarten.

In the House, Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst warned that too few Coloradans are benefiting from the growing economy. 

"Our middle class Colorado families are standing uncomfortably close to standing at the edge of the cliff," said just the second woman to hold the post of speaker. "Only one emergency away from sliding right back to where we were in the depths of the Great Recession."

Hullinghorst said lawmakers are drafting bills to try to address the affordable housing crisis. Another idea Democrats are floating is to cap interest rates for credit cards and student loans.

Hullinghorst also responded to recent protests over police killings in New York and Missouri. She says her caucus is looking for ways to improve relations between law enforcement and the public.

"This is an issue of public safety, fairness, civil rights, and the very values that make us Coloradans and make us Americans," she said.

Lawmakers are still working on possible police reform bills, but there’s plenty more for them to consider. By the end of opening day, more than 40 bills had already already been introduced, with hundreds more still on the way. Here's a look at some of the most notable:

Guns: House Republicans introduced a bill to repeal a 2013 law that limits the size of ammunition magazines to 15 rounds. They also introduced a bill that would repeal an expansion of background checks for firearms sold online and between private sellers. A Republican senator proposed a bill to allow people to carry concealed firearms without a permit, including on school grounds. 
Energy: Republicans floated several ideas to chip away at renewable-energy mandates passed by Democrats in recent years. One would reduce higher renewable energy requirements for rural electricity providers, a law that Democrats passed two years ago. 
Education: One Democratic senator proposed a measure to remove students' test scores as a required element in teacher evaluations, a direct attack on a teacher-tenure law unpopular with educators. Other proposals include a new fund to give grants for early childhood educators and new requirements for schools regarding the prevention of child sexual abuse and assault.  
Marijuana: Lawmakers have at least two divisive marijuana-related measures before them. One bill requires medical marijuana caregivers to register with the state and cracks down on doctors who recommend pot for severe pain. The other requires medical and recreational pot shops to warn customers about possible health effects of using marijuana while nursing or pregnant. 
Law and order: The House will consider a proposal to ban powdered alcohol in Colorado before the product hits shelves. The House also has a bill to increase penalties for repeat DUI offenders. Both chambers will consider measures that seek to protect children in prostitution cases by considering them trafficking victims and not criminals.

Hullinghorst said she hoped the split assembly would be able to govern effectively.

"There are those who say split legislature will place challenges in path," she said. "I prefer to see them as opportunities to work together for all of our constituents."