Number one: Jobs. Number two: Education.
Those were the priorities laid out by Speaker-designee of the House Mark Ferrandino during a meeting Thursday with The Gazette editorial board. Ferrandino, a Denver Democrat, is the new leader of the state House of Representatives, which Democrats re-took in the November election.
“That’s the number one issue that people care about,” the speaker said, referring to jobs and the economy. “We’re seeing economic recovery take hold, but it’s still tenuous, and there are still things we can do to make sure it grows faster, and make sure people find good-paying jobs in Colorado.”
State Democrats, who now control both chambers of the Legislature, will roll out a series of bills regarding both economic development and job training, Ferrandino said.
The speaker will push for between $300,000 and $500,000 for small business development centers around the state to help get companies started.
Capitol Democrats also have crafted two job training plans called the iBest Program and Colorado Careers Program, both designed to train and re-train workers for new professions.
“We see a skills gap right now, where there are job openings but people don’t always have the skills to get those openings,” said Ferrandino.
A bill defeated last year dealing with “economic gardening,” by Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, will be brought back. The measure would pour state money into established small- to medium-sized businesses, to help them grow and expand their workforces.
Lee and Rep.-elect Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs, were at the meeting with Ferrandino.
Education funding is needed at every level, from preschool through higher education, Ferrandino said. Both K-12 and higher education have lost hundreds of millions of dollars over the past several years as the state has had to make deep cuts due to the recession.
“We’re $1 billion underfunded instead of what Amendment 23 says we need,” said Ferrandino, referring to a Constitutional provision that requires the state to increase education funding each year.
Education, the speaker said, is directly tied to the economy and job training programs. The more highly-skilled workers the state produces, the more businesses will want to relocate to Colorado, Ferrandino said.
Ferrandino, Exum and Lee also hit on several other issues that will be taken up by the legislature, including:
• Recreational marijuana sales regulations, which the Legislature is required to enact this year;
• Gun control, which promises to be a hot topic in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Aurora theater shooting;
• Civil unions for gay couples, which Ferrandino said will likely be signed into law by mid-March;
• State support for veterans, including two bills sponsored by Exum;
• “Crimes against the unborn,” a bill to establish criminal penalties for those who cause pregnant women to miscarry;
• The ASSET bill, a Democratic measure that would give reduced college tuition to children of illegal immigrants;
• Transportation funding for widening I-25 between Colorado Springs and Castle Rock;
• A possible bill to abolish the death penalty in Colorado.
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