Legislative session shaping up to be another partisan slugfest
DENVER — The 2014 session of the Colorado Legislature that starts today is already shaping up to be a battle of wills.
While the Republicans are intent on reversing many of the controversial bills approved by Democrats during last year’s session, not the least of which will be the gun-control measures, the majority Democrats will be focused on, well, not letting them do that.
For both sides, though, it is an election year and traditionally many of the measures that legislators introduce in an even-year session are designed to help them get votes in the fall elections.
In that vein, the signature measure that Senate Democrats will introduce at the start of the 120-day session is its so-called College Affordability Act, a bill designed to allocate more than $101 million to higher education and cap tuition increases to 6 percent.
And in the wake of the failure of a ballot question to raise income taxes to fund K-12 education, the Democrats also are pushing a $223 increase in per-student funding.
For their part, Republicans are touting a series of measures to boost public safety, including targeting parole reform and imposing mandatory prison sentences on drunken drivers who kill someone in an accident.
Chief among those ideas is a bill to make it a felony for getting three or more DUIs, a bill that Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, is pushing with Rep. Mark Waller, the Colorado Springs Republican who’s vying to be the state’s next attorney general.
“There’s no excuse for that,” King said of motorists who have multiple DUIs. “If you’ve got seven DUIs you’ve got a huge drinking problem, and you should not be on the streets.”
What’s killed similar efforts in the past to get such a measure passed, something King tried during his first term in the Legislature in 2008, has been money and prison bed space. There wasn’t enough of either.
That’s no longer true. With a recovering economy boosting state revenues and a reduction in prisons, King said he’s hopeful such a measure finally may see its day.
Republicans in the House and Senate also are expected to introduce measures to roll back some of the new laws approved during last year’s session, particularly a 15-round limit on gun magazines and universal background checks in all gun purchases.
Those measures, however, are expected to be sent to committees that aren’t likely to approve them, particularly in the Senate. Because of those new laws, the Democrats’ majority in the Senate went from 20-15 to 18-17 when two senators, including Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, were recalled last fall because of the gun measures.
There are at least two Democratic senators who don’t much care for the 15-round limit. Sens. Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge and Lois Tochtrop of Thornton have indicated they would vote to repeal them if they reach the full Senate. Both were the only two Democrats in the Senate to oppose the new law last year.
That won’t be the only Democratic-approved new law that Republicans plan to target. Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, plans to introduce a bill to reduce the 20 percent renewable energy standard imposed on rural electric associations to 15 percent.
Last year’s law upped that standard, required by 2020, from 10 percent. Public utilities such as Xcel Energy already are required to meet a 30 percent standard.
Meanwhile, Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Glenwood Springs, wants to introduce a bill to delay new election reform measures passed during last year’s session, particularly the provision that allows for Election Day registration.
At least one vote-getting issue that both parties are expected to cooperate on will center on helping people impacted by last year’s floods and wildfires. Several of those ideas include repairing damaged roads, improving working conditions for firefighters and providing tax breaks for flooded homeowners.
Leadership in both parties is also working on another bipartisan piece of legislation that is expected to be the second measure introduced into the Senate today.
That bill would transfer to the Attorney General’s Office a program created after the Columbine school shootings in 1999 to get students to report, anonymously, possible threats to other students, including bullying and suicide attempts.
The $250,000 program, called Safe2Tell, has been operating as a nonprofit supported by private donations, but those grants have started to dry up.
As a result, the program that supporters, including Gov. John Hickenlooper and Attorney General John Suthers, say have thwarted potential Columbine-like attacks, needs state funding to continue to do its job.