Lawmakers bring fork to full plate of business
Gun bans, civil unions and recreational marijuana use aren’t the only contentious issues lawmakers are expected to discuss when the Colorado Legislature convenes the 2013 session on Wednesday.
Such issues as collective bargaining rights for government workers, increased local authority over oil and gas drilling and video lottery terminals in places other than the state’s three gambling towns also could find their way into proposed bills this year.
All those ideas have been attempted in prior legislative sessions, particularly in years when the Democrats controlled both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office as they do now.
So several longtime legislative observers warn people not to be surprised if Democrats decide to take advantage of that majority and introduce measures that, well, only a Democrat would love.
“I think they’re definitely going to be asked to,” said Kevin Bommer, deputy director of the Colorado Municipal League. “There’s people who helped get some folks elected that are going to expect something for it. Whether or not cooler heads prevail, we’ll see.”
Bommer already is expecting some big battles to emerge during the session over labor issues, including a controversial collective bargaining measure for firefighters that Democrats passed in 2009 when they last held a majority, a bill that then Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter ended up vetoing.
The measure to be introduced this month is expected to be similar to that bill, which initially extended collective bargaining rights to all peace officers, too.
Bommer said if that bill comes forward again, it would open up an even bigger can of worms, particularly for home-rule cities because it could usurp their constitutional right to make their own personnel policies.
Additionally, even though the measure deals with government workers, it’s likely to draw the ire of business groups as well, which have opposed any type of union-friendly legislation in the past, he said.
“Basically, it would be as it was in 2009, World War III,” Bommer said. “What’s interesting is the dynamic shapes up like it did in 2009, where you’ve got both houses controlled by the Democrats and a Democratic governor who probably doesn’t want to see that hit his desk.
“The question is, is (Hickenlooper) going to play it like Bill Ritter and wish and hope it doesn’t get there, or is he going to take an active role?” he added. “He’s told us, ‘I’ll always be a mayor.’ Thing is, this isn’t about policy, it’s brass-knuckle politics. If they go for it, it’s going to be down and dirty.”
Before he was elected governor in 2010, Hickenlooper was serving his second term as mayor of Denver.
Lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle are expected to renew their battles over just how much control local governments should have over oil and gas drilling within their boundaries.
While existing law already grants local governments the power to regulate surface issues, such as noise abatement and water quality, some believe they don’t go far enough.
Last fall, the Longmont City Council approved new rules governing how and where new wells can be drilled. That was followed by a voter-approved measure in November banning hydraulic fracturing of any well.
Both prompted lawsuits by the state agency that oversees oil and gas development and a slew of proposed new rules dealing with setback issues, which the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission now is considering.
Last year, lawmakers considered dueling bills that conflicted with each other. One would have granted local governments more authority over down-well issues, while the other did the opposite.
The governor then created a task force to discuss the matter, but it, too, couldn’t agree on a solution.
The lawsuits and the rules are expected to impact what, if any, new measures get introduced this session.
Tony Gagliardi, state director of the Colorado branch of the National Federation of Independent Business, is expecting to see a slew of other “anti-business” measures from Democrats, and none of them are new ideas in the Legislature.
That includes proposed laws barring employers from considering bad credit histories in new hires, requiring employers to pay prevailing wages in certain industries and a collective bargaining measure not just for police and firefighters, but all state and local government workers.
The question is, how many of these measures will the Democratic leaders actually push forward, and how far will the governor, a former businessman and petroleum geologist, need to go to stop them, Gagliardi said.
“What’s going to be interesting is seeing how (Hickenlooper) reacts to his own caucus,” he said. “Are they going to force him to move more left of center, maybe even to the extreme, or is he going to stand his ground and tell his caucus, ‘I don’t want to see this on my desk.’”
Beyond that, the state’s cities and towns are planning to ask the Legislature to allow them to increase municipal court fines, which they haven’t been allowed to do for some years, and make sure that whatever marijuana law they approve gives them control over where pot shops can be located.
Under Amendment 64, which voters approved in November to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, the Legislature and Department of Revenue are required to approve new laws and regulations governing liquor store-like shops to sell the weed.
Additionally, backers of a controversial proposal to allow video lottery terminal gambling in the state could re-emerge this session, but how it would work, or even if it will be introduced, is unknown.
Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, introduced a similar measure last year, but said he’s unlikely to try again this session.
Meanwhile, Democrats said their chief focus of the session will be to boost jobs and economic development.
As a result, some of the ideas they tried last year are expected to return, including bills to create a state pilot program to provide high-tech support to new businesses and increase funding to the state’s Small Business Development Centers.
On Monday, Hickenlooper and the Democrats plan to release a list of economic development measures they intend to introduce during the session.