Legislative session has tough issues to consider
A cold political climate could hinder bill movements
“To quote Shakespeare, this session could be much ado about nothing; there will be a lot of theater, but not a lot of legislative action.”
Eric Sondermann, political analyst
State Rep. Justin Everett lugged three large bags up Grant Street from the state Capitol toward his legislative office in a nearby building Tuesday morning.
“Moving in,” called out the combative conservative from Jefferson County who is likely to be at the center of partisan skirmishes in the chamber the next four months.
The Colorado General Assembly begins its 120-day session Wednesday morning, and legislators and regular statehouse spectators predict a frigid political climate between Republicans and Democrats entrenched in their positions on the major issues.
“To quote Shakespeare, this session could be much ado about nothing; there will be a lot of theater, but not a lot of legislative action,” said Eric Sondermann, an independent political analyst.
“It will be a very political year overall, with the presidential election and a pitched battle for control of the legislature that will come down to a few seats. Both sides have big things they want, but as for a deal that can be struck, color me dubious.” Among big battles expected: • The state budget: Democrats contend that without exempting a hospital provider fee, expected to top $750 million next year, from the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, the state will have to issue refunds to taxpayers and miss opportunities to spend money instead on transportation and education or other expenses. Republicans want to preserve the integrity of TABOR, and the GOP thinks the budget is big enough to cover an adequate side of state government.
• Transportation: Republicans will try again to pass $3.5 billion in bonds for roads and bridges. Democrats and the state Department of Transportation say they don’t have a stream of revenue to repay without cutting into other projects and existing maintenance.
• Construction-defects liability: Business interests say lawsuit abuse is discouraging construction of affordable housing by scaring off developers. Democrats say protecting homeowners’ rights is paramount.
• Guns, abortion rights, doctor-assisted suicide, oil and gas development and the minimum wage: New bills are expected to bring new acrimony to past partisan and ideological fights.
Sandra Solin, a lobbyist for a business coalition called Fix Colorado Roads, is hopeful lawmakers can find common ground on roads and bridges.
“It’s difficult to recall an issue where all four caucuses have agreed on a problem the way they do today about the growing transportation crisis,” she said. “It’s a problem that is negatively impacting our economy, our quality of life and our safety.”
Theresa Mangino of Denver, a
homeless person who called herself a “citizen activist,” roamed the Capitol on Tuesday morning to talk to legislators. She hopes they can put aside their differences on a likely bill to eradicate Denver’s urban camping ban.
“They can play politics, but disrespecting human life should rise above that,” she said. “I wish legislators had to legislate like it was their judgment day. They can fool voters, but they can’t fool God.”
Sondermann said the fights within the party could be more interesting than the fights between the parties. Democrats have just a threeseat edge in the 65-member House. Republicans cling to a one-seat majority in the 35member Senate.
That means just one or two obstinate members could hold their party’s bills hostage to win concessions. Beyond that, House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst and Senate President Bill Cadman are term-limited after this year, so other legislators will be looking to forge alliances for themselves and break those of their challengers to move up in the leadership shuffle next year.
For the statehouse staff that assists lawmakers from both parties, politics is background noise, not marching orders.
The 25-member staff in the House each year walks a line of nonpartisanship, said Marilyn Eddins, a chief House clerk since 2004 and a House staff member since 1983.
“When we come into this building, we check our political opinions at the door,” she said.
Building maintenance worker Chris Martinez polishes the brass railings in front of the Senate chambers. Martinez has worked at the Capitol for 11 years and says that he and his co-workers will be introduced on the Senate floor on opening day. Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post