Updated: January 9, 2014 at 5:25 am
DENVER - The Colorado General Assembly opened Wednesday for a 120-day session that political leaders said they hope would avoid fractious partisanship and steer a course toward economic growth, recovery from fires and floods and education gains.
"We are here united to serve one goal; to diligently act as public servants to the people of Colorado," said Senate President Morgan Carroll, moments after the Aurora Democrat was unanimously voted into the position by Democrats and Republicans alike. "Our job is to pave the way so Coloradans have the freedom to succeed. I have every reason to believe that we can and will work together to accomplish that end."
Senate Republican Leader Bill Cadman echoed that sentiment with a slight twist toward the end, reiterating that for him, last year's session was the antithesis of cooperation.
Freshman state Sen. Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs, said he was hopeful on his first day in the Legislature that Republicans and Democrats will be able to work together effectively.
"The formula is wrong," said Cadman, of Colorado Springs. "Democrats divided by Republicans does not produce outcomes that are representative of this state. In addition to the historic events, that formula produced a hyper-partisan toxin that affected this entire institution, those who serve here and all who visited here. We started looking like congress."
As Carroll was giving her remarks, House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, a Democrat from Denver talked on the other side of the Capitol about moving forward to strengthen the state's economy and education system.
"Now is not the time to take a step backward, to relitigate the fights of the past, to descend into Washington-style impasse and dysfunction," Ferrandino said. "Now is the time to continue moving Colorado forward, and to build for Colorado's future."
The first bill to be introduced in the House would create a tax credit for those who have had property destroyed by natural disasters. The amount of the credit, in a draft version of the bill made public Wednesday, would be equal to "the taxpayer's property tax liability for the destroyed property" in the year the disaster occurred.
In her speech, Carroll said the Senate would be supportive of the measure and also of removing red tape so local communities can quickly repair roads and bridges.
"Who wants to pay property taxes on a home that has been destroyed?" she asked.
But for Carroll, the top bill in the Senate is one that calls for a $100 million investment in higher education. Senate Bill 1 also would pay for merit-based and need-based scholarships, Carroll said.
Republicans have pledged to work on education, economics and recovery, but also plan to attempt to roll-back a number of measures passed during the 2013 General Assembly.
Cadman intentionally didn't name any of those measures Wednesday, saying he would "spare us all."
While Republicans cheered loudly following Cadman's statement that there needed to be lessons learned from 2013, Democrats sat quietly.
Generally, it's expected that legislation will be introduced to try to repeal five gun laws, a mandate for renewable energy use by rural electric cooperatives and an election reform law that created same-day voter registration.
Republicans are unlikely win any of those fights as they are the minority in the Senate and the House and Gov. John Hickenlooper is a Democrat.
There are 18 Democrats and 17 Republicans in the Senate, a big change from last year when the count was 20-15.
Two Democrats lost their seats to Republicans during the September recall elections.
House Democrats maintained a solid majority with 37 seats to 28.
Bills that were filed early were becoming available Wednesday on the state's website. Hearings on the bills will begin in about a week, and the public is able to testify on the legislation while it is in committee. Visit www.leg.state.co.us to learn more about what bills have been introduced and when they are scheduled to be heard.
Hickenlooper will give his annual state of the state address at 11 a.m. Thursday in the House chambers at the state capitol.
About the Bills
On Wednesday proposed legislation that was filed early was made public for the first time. Here is a round-up of some of the bills introduced. It will be another week before legislation starts being heard in committees.
• SB 001: Called the College Affordability Act, this billit would appropriate $100 million from the general fund to the Department of Higher Education. About $40 million would be for financial aid programs, and the remaining $60 million would go to institutions. The bill alsoAlso would cap tuition increases in any single year at 6 percent. It is capped at 9 percent.
Sponsors: Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge; Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood; Rep. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, and Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango.
• SB 002: This bi-partisan bill would use about $250,000 in public funding to put the Safe2Tell program under the Attorney General’s Office. Safe2Tell is funded through grants and private donations and is an anonymous hotline for students and teachers to call and report school violence and other high-risk behaviors.
Sponsors: Senate President Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora; Senate Republican Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs; House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, and House Republican Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland.
• SB 003: Current law prohibits countiesCounties are prohibited from using general fund money for roads and bridges, which has becomebecame an issue following theflood damage in some counties. This bill would allow counties to transfer money to infrastructure repairs if the governor declares an emergency.
Sponsors: Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud; Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville; Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, and Rep. BrianDelGrosso, R-Loveland.
• SB 019: Would allow partners in a civil union who are able to file a joint federal tax return to also file a joint Colorado tax return.
Sponsors: Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver and Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City.
• SB 014: Would strengthen Colorado’s shield law, which protects journalists from having to reveal their sources.
Sponsors: Sen. Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs.
• HB1001: Responding to the floods and fires of 2013, this bill would create an income tax credit for taxpayers who had property destroyed during a natural disaster. The credit — or reimbursement of income tax — would be equal to what the taxpayer paid in property taxes on the destroyed property during the year of the disaster.
Sponsors: Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, and Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Black Hawk.
• HB 1004: Would create an income tax exemption for out-of-state disaster relief workers who come to Colorado to assist with recovery and are paid here with money that would ordinarily be taxed as income.
Sponsors: Rep. Dan Nordberg, R-Colorado Springs, and Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins
• HB 1009: Would change the state’s tax deduction for wildfire mitigation such as cutting down trees to create defensible space to a tax credit, which reimburses homeowners dollar for dollar for the work they do up to a set limit.
Sponsors: Rep. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs, and Sen. JeanneNicholson., D-Black Hawk
• HB 1012: Would enable investors to receive 25 percent of any investment to an “advanced industry” business such as manufacturing, aerospace or bioscience back as a state tax credit up to $50,000.
Sponsors: Rep. Max Tyler, D-Lakewood; Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, and Sen. JohnKefalas.
• HB 1013: Would help develop the workforce in Colorado for advanced industries such as manufacturing, aerospace or bioscience.
Sponsors: Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora.
Contact Megan Schrader