Although I’m just a first-termer in the Colorado House of Representatives, I am in my second session, so I am now a seasoned rookie. As we enter the final month of our constitutionally prescribed 120-day legislative session, I offer some insights from that perspective.
The first is this: Although many believe the Colorado General Assembly mirrors the partisan divisiveness and gridlock of the U.S. Congress, the reality is that we are far more collaborative and productive.
In Colorado, we are split the same way as in Washington, with a Democratic chief executive, a Democratic controlled Senate and a Republican controlled House. But Colorado, in my view, is less partisan and more cooperative. Over 80 percent of the bills pass on a bipartisan basis.
We agree more than we disagree. Most of the bills we consider are noncontroversial, generally recognized as sound public policy, and garner significant support from both Democrats and Republicans. Many pass unanimously
For example, during the 2012 session, a major focus has been to stimulate jobs and help the economy. To do so, we passed a business personal property tax exemption, simplified business regulations, approved a technology transfer program, authorized a jobs skills bank and codified a cottage foods industry. In addition, we made delivery of health care more efficient and effective by easing procedural requirements and licensing advanced practice nurses. We took steps to address human trafficking, stalking and children’s suicide. These are just a few of our many accomplishments.
Overall, as of April 9, 513 bills have been introduced in the House and Senate, 217 are pending, 296 have been acted on, 142 have been killed, and 123 delivered to the governor. We have been busy and productive.
My second conclusion: in an election year, unfortunately, politics sometimes trumps policy. Although I hoped for continuing bipartisanship on good public policy, I have seen most of my bills killed on party line votes.
I proposed two substantive bills to create jobs. The “Buy Colorado” bill would have given preferences on state contracts to companies that employ Colorado residents and veterans. We would spend our taxpayers’ money on Colorado workers and buying Colorado products and services. My second jobs bill, “Economic Gardening,” would have established a pilot program to help high potential, high growth small businesses by providing sophisticated management and technical assistance usually only available to large companies. Successfully adopted in several other states, economic gardening helps entrepreneurs and is a proven job creator.
Both bills were killed on party line votes. I also proposed bills to reduce the influence of money in politics, to improve financial literacy through CSU Extension; and to revise and update the Colorado Statutes. All three of these bills were killed on party line votes as well.
After successfully sponsoring five bills in my first session, I was disappointed that only one has passed so far this session. But as I said, politics trumps policy in an election year.
My third observation: there is reason for optimism. The Legislature’s chief economist estimated that the state government’s revenues in the current fiscal year would grow by $108 million more than she had estimated in December. The staff budget director estimated that the state budget would have a surplus of $200 million.
This is great news because it means the state’s economy is growing faster than we thought and that we’ll be able to reverse some of the painful cuts we’ve had to make to state programs, especially K-12 and higher education. We will also be able to reinstate the senior property tax exemption.
The improved economic outlook will make the annual process of producing a state budget less contentious. But there will be plenty to keep us busy over the remainder of the session.
Finally, it is gratifying to see that some previous decisions have positive, intended consequences.
The Colorado Criminal and Juvenile Justice Commission has been studying and recommending changes to our criminal statutes for four years. As a result of smart reform legislation, for the first time in a decade we are seeing a reduction in the number of inmates being sent to prison. The Department of Corrections just announced the closing of CSP II, a maximum security prison in Cañon City. This closing will save Colorado millions of dollars over the coming years. Rep. Mark Waller of Colorado Springs deserves credit for his efforts to make this happen.
Further, last year’s legislative fix to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund is working and the fund will be solvent this year.
Service in the Colorado Legislature is an honor, a privilege and a great responsibility. I serve with pride and humility. To succeed for you, the citizens and voters, I solicit your advice and input.
Public policy is only as good as the information upon which it is based. The best legislation is the result of involved stakeholders, including citizens, so I urge your active participation. I am eager to hear from you any time.
Contact me by phone, email or letter: 303 866-2932, Pete.Lee.firstname.lastname@example.org, 200 E Colfax Ave. Room 271, Denver CO 80203.
I invite you to attend my Community Town Hall on 1 p.m. April 15 at the Manitou Springs City Hall.
Pete Lee is the state representative for District 18, which includes central Colorado Springs, east to Academy Blvd., the West Side and Manitou Springs.