Highlights of the Week
Today the 72nd General Assembly of Colorado convened for the first day of the 2019 Legislative Session. Over the next 120 days Colorado lawmakers will go to work under the golden dome. The 2018 election set up a big change in the political landscape with incoming Governor-elect Jared Polis, Democrat control of the State Senate and State House, and over 30 new members in the legislature. Today 12 new Senators and 23 new Representatives were sworn in. Eight of the new Senators previously served in the House of Representatives. Earlier this week, current Representative Bob Rankin won a vacancy left by outgoing Senator Randy Baumgardner so he will move to the Senate within the next two weeks. Representative Rankin’s move from the House to the Senate means there will be changes to the Joint Budget Committee membership. In the opening speeches, leaders in both chambers recognized the record number of women Representatives and Senators as well as a diverse range of ethnicities and backgrounds. Each chamber’s leader and minority leader called for Colorado to continue its tradition of bipartisan work at the state capitol. From there, speeches diverged and gave snapshots of each caucuses priorities and their solutions to address challenges facing the state. Democrat highlighted their interest in tackling everything from paid family leave to climate change. Both Republican leaders pointed out that voters said no to statewide tax increases in the 2018 election. Democrat speeches identified challenges and potential solutions. Republican speeches responded to many of the Democrat proposed solutions highlighting that some of members’ constituents have concerns about policies including restricting gun access through promoting extreme risk protection orders, safe injection sites, and oil and gas restrictions. Today there will be a cascade of bills introduced from the Senate and the House. Next week committees of reference will begin to meet, and the Joint Budget Committee will hold budget hearings for the Department of Higher Education.
Senate President Leroy Garcia (click on the name to access the full text of the speech)
President Leroy Garcia began by welcoming all the newly elected senators to the chamber, recognizing the Democratic caucus has a majority of women and that Senators bring geographic and ethnic diversity to the chamber. In a short address he said that hard work and collaboration needs to be brought back to the capitol and that Colorado elected the Senators to reach across party lines to create solutions for its citizens. President Garcia highlighted several challenges including wage disparity, high health care costs, the opioid crisis, and access to quality public education. He provided hints of the Democrat agenda such as legislation to increase price transparency in health care, a policy to address predatory student loan servicers, and crafting policies to make sure that Colorado’s businesses provide workers fair compensation. He ended his speech encouraging Senators to work together to help all Coloradans.
Minority Leader Chris Holbert
The tone of Minority Leader Holbert’s speech was positive. He is excited to work on bipartisan solutions and to work with the new Senate President. The beginning of Minority Leader Holbert’s speech invited listeners to look back at Colorado’s history as the General Assembly begins its 143rdlegislative year. He described many of the features of Colorado’s constitution that gives the state’s legislative process certainty. Colorado has a Taxpayer Bill of Rights which limits government spending and revenue. These certainties give Minority Leader Holbert assurance that there are checks built into the legislative process. In his speech, Minority Leader Holbert brought up the fact that most voters opposed Proposition 112 even while voting for Democrats. He encouraged members to work across the aisle to pass bills because a majority of the bills passed in recent years were done so with bipartisan support, and there can be backlash, as seen in the events of 2013, when a single party pushes too far. The second half of Minority Leader Holbert’s speech focused on policies and priorities for the upcoming legislative session. On transportation, the Senate Republicans will continue to support bonding for transportation projects which will be on the November ballot due to the passage of SB 001 last year. Senator Scott and Senator Cooke will introduce a bill to increase transportation funding by $336 million General Fund. On education, he proposed cutting the budget stabilization factor in half by appropriating an additional $336 million to it, and reducing requirements for rural schools. In anticipation of a Democrat bill for a paid family leave program, Minority Leader Holbert said that this policy would increase costs for employers. He argued that incentives to encourage employers to provide paid family leave would be a better solution. On the opioid crisis, he cautioned members that constituents have concerns over safe injection sites. The last issue he touched on in his speech was related to the extreme protection order bill that is sure to be introduced early in the session. He urged that the solution focus on mental health support rather than giving governments a tool to search and remove guns temporarily from those in a mental health crisis.
Speaker of the House KC Becker
Speaker KC Becker’s speech recalled successes from the last legislative session and gave a preview for priorities in the upcoming session. Speaker Becker began her speech by thanking her constituents, the entire leadership team, and the families of all of the elected members. She recognized the number of women in the House of Representatives and the diversity of the chamber. She said that 11 years ago Colorado was in a deep recession, and since then Colorado has boomed however, the growth has not been felt in all four corners of the state. While unemployment is at all-time lows, people struggle with high cost of living in the state. Her speech called out a couple policies that will be top priorities for the caucus this session such as paid family leave and extreme risk protection orders. The paid family leave policy was a priority last year for Democrats that failed in a Republican controlled Senate. The extreme risk protection order bill also failed last year in the final days of session. Other issues like transportation and affordable housing were mentioned briefly but with little detail. Several issues related to health care came up in Speaker Becker’s speech. She said that they have to promote transparency across all actors in the health care sector and make sure that consumers are not receiving surprise bills. The opioid crisis is a public health epidemic and while measures passed last year were a good start, more needs to be done to address the stigma around addiction and recovery. After discussing the successes of last year’s legislative session related to prescribing practices and helping people into treatment, she said that this year more needs to be done to end the stigma around addiction and recovery. Speaker Becker ended her speech with a call to work together. Coloradans want leaders who will reach across the aisle. The new members will bring energy to the state capital. She is excited about what can be accomplished together.
Minority Leader Patrick Neville
Minority Leader Neville began his speech by thanking his family, and all members’ families and loved ones and saying that he is grateful and excited to work with Speaker Becker. He moved on to set the tone for his speech by discussing free speech and the importance of civil discourse in politics despite the current trend to stay within our tribes. He said the job of the minority is not to get in the way of the majority, rather, his party will continue to stand up for principles of small government and free enterprise. When Democrats introduce bills that go against those beliefs, his caucus will oppose the policies. He said that the paid family leave policy would be costly to taxpayers, detrimental to small businesses, and ripe for abuse. Several times during his speech, he recalled ballot measures that failed in the 2018 election arguing that their failure showed that Colorado citizens do not want to impose higher regulations on oil and gas development or to raise taxes for transportation. Minority Leader Neville recognized that in previous years the state has increased investment in K-12 education, but cautioned that they are not seeing better results from the funding. Charter schools that have less money and a more diverse population show better results. Some policies he floated were to offer higher pay for better teachers, make it easier to terminate low performing teachers, and removing policies that force schools to hire additional administrative staff. On the opioid crisis, he said that safe injection sites are against federal law and that they do not solve the problem. One of the last issues he discussed was gun ownership. Laws meant to keep the mentally ill from buying firearms are ripe for abuse and are more likely to keep innocent people from purchasing guns. Minority Leader Neville ended his speech offering a choice: to expand state government at the expense of citizens, or to make Colorado more affordable.