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2014 Colorado legislature preview: Education, economy among top agenda items

By Megan Schrader Updated: January 8, 2014 at 3:09 pm 0

Lawmakers return to the state Capitol on Wednesday for the start of the 2014 legislative session with hopes of improving education and boosting the state's economy.

Those generic topics seem to top the list for Democrats and Republicans as they make their wish lists for the Colorado General Assembly of 2014.

There's also quite a bit the two political parties don't agree on, gearing up for another intense 120 days of the Colorado General Assembly rehashing debates over guns, renewable energy standards and election reform.

But despite the inherent controversy, leaders of caucuses in the House and Senate were cautiously optimistic this session could avoid some of the intense bipartisan bickering that occurred last year.

Democrats still control the House and the Senate, and Gov. John Hickenlooper is a Democrat. But Democrats lost two seats in the Senate this fall, leaving them with a narrow single-vote majority.

"I would hope that we don't see the same kind of partisan animosity that came out of the last session," said Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs. "We're actually trying to find some places where we can work together."

Senate President-elect Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, echoed that sentiment saying she was emphasizing bipartisan collaboration.

"The people really are sick of bickering," Carroll said. "They're sick of partisan mudslinging. They're tired of excuses."

But conflict is inevitable.

Carroll is the leader of the Senate because gun advocates were able to oust former Senate President John Morse from office in September over gun legislation he introduced and supported.

Sen. Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs, replaced Morse in that election, and he has pledged to introduce legislation repealing a law Democrats passed banning ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 bullets in 2013.

"I owe it to those people who worked so hard on the recall to at least attempt the rollback on some of that legislation that was passed last session," Herpin said.

Herpin said he's optimistic, but he says the bill likely won't make it out of committee.

Carroll and Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino said while they will listen to proposals to tweak legislation passed last year, repealing laws that were put in place to improve public safety is out of the question.

Cadman said Republicans will also try to repeal other controversial bills signed into law in 2013, such as a mandate that rural electric companies use 20 percent renewable energy by 2020 or a same-day registration election reform bill.

Democrats still hold a majority in every committee under the gold dome, so it's likely those repeal efforts will die quickly - if not quietly - in committee hearings early in the session.

Carroll pledged to ensure robust and open public comment during the session, including reaching out to rural communities in teleconferences.

So what new will come out of the 2014 General Assembly?

Ferrandino said his caucus in the House will focus on three things: enhancing the economic recovery, strengthening education systems and recovering from wildfires and floods.

Specifically, Ferrandino said, lawmakers will consider tax breaks for those who lost their homes in fires and floods, while trying to ensure college remains affordable for the middle class.

House Republican Leader Brain DelGrosso, of Loveland, said almost the same thing, but like Cadman, he expects his members to try to repeal some of the laws from last session.

But flood and fire recovery top his list.

"There's a lot of infrastructure needs and personal needs from families who don't have homes . I think those things need to be on the top of every bodies minds," he said.

DelGrosso is replacing Rep. Mark Waller, who last year led the GOP caucus, but stepped down from the leadership position because he is running for attorney general in 2014. Since the last session, El Paso County has gone from holding three out of four top leadership posts at the capitol, to only having Cadman leading Senate Republicans.

Waller said he doesn't think the shift in leadership will impact the county.

"I don't think it's going to have much in the way of impact," Waller said.

"I still believe I have influence at the state Legislature and I'll be certainly exercising my voice."

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Contact Megan Schrader

286-0644

Twitter: @CapitolSchrader

The session begins Wednesday with speeches from the leaders in the House and Senate. Thursday Gov. John Hickenlooper will give lawmakers his State of the State address. Then the madness begins. Each lawmaker can introduce up to five bills - with plenty of exceptions and loopholes. Majority Democrats - who are in power - will assign each bill to a committee - possibly several committees - where it is first heard. The public can give testimony on any bills heard in committee by coming to the state Capitol on the day of the hearing.

A bill can be killed in committee by a simple majority of votes, but there are ways for lawmakers to revive once dead bills. If a bill is passed out of every committee it is assigned to, it heads to the House or Senate floor, depending on which chamber the legislation originated in. If it passes on the floor of a chamber, it is sent over to a committee in the other chamber.

Once a bill has received approval in both chambers, it goes to the governor for final approval.

In short, it takes 33, 18 and 1 to create a law: 33 votes in the House, 18 in the Senate and the governor's signature.

Megan Schrader, megan.schrader@gazette.com

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