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Top 10 things to know about your 2017 Colorado General Assembly

May 14, 2017 Updated: May 15, 2017 at 7:24 am
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Colorado State Capitol Building

Here's a look back at what happened, and what didn't, during the 2017 General Assembly session at the Colorado Legislature.

1 - Road bills sputtered

The highest goal of the session, to address the state's ailing, clogged transportation system, didn't go nearly as planned. Two bills that would have put billions into wider interstates and local transit died in the Senate, bogged down over asking taxpayers to pony up.

2 - Republicans got on the omnibus

For years, GOP lawmakers fought reclassifying a fee on hospital beds to get it out from under the state's constitutional spending cap that triggers tax refunds. This session, the biggest bipartisan win was doing just that, as Republicans traded for higher Medicaid copays, a lower spending cap and money for rural schools, roads and hospitals.

3 - Put up or shut up for construction defects reform

After four legislative sessions, the first measure of construction defects litigation reform is law. The cost of insurance and lawsuits was said to be why construction of affordable condominiums in the state has withered, but now that lawmakers have delivered, it's up to builders to respond.

4 - Oil and gas issues exploded

Oil-and-gas interests had been on a legislative winning streak and had made a good case as a good and safe neighbor, until a house near a pipeline in Firestone exploded and killed two people on April 17. That caused a last-days struggle between Republicans and Democrats, one that's likely to continue into next year's session and elections.

5 - A moderate shift to the left in the Senate

The Senate president proposing a tax increase to fund roads, while the Senate president pro tem pushed a restructuring of the Hospital Provider Fee, served as the clearest examples of a shift in tone and thinking for Senate Republicans. On two issues that were always considered off the table, Senate Republicans rallied behind one of those proposals, the Hospital Provider Fee restructuring, showing an evolution and a leap of faith. Meanwhile, Republicans advanced legislation to strengthen penalties on crimes against gay people, while also supporting a bill to extend coverage to provide a 12-month supply of contraceptives for women.

6 - Who was legislating and who was campaigning

Just months removed from Election Day, at least a dozen of the General Assembly's 100 members have their eyes on offices higher than the Legislature. Sometimes good pieces of legislation also look good on a campaign flyer, and lobbyists with PACs become the best lobbyists of all.

7 - Pot's wild ride

Right up through the last day of the legislative session, marijuana was a focus. Bipartisan efforts were made to allow for marijuana social clubs and to protect cannabis retailers in the event of a federal crackdown. While the marijuana social clubs efforts never advanced, it started a conversation that is sure to continue. Even on the last day of the session, marijuana was a focus. A somewhat bizarre debate took place over how many people should be allowed to smoke marijuana on the porch of a home. Lawmakers couldn't come to agreement, but it again shows how cannabis conversations have evolved in the Legislature.

8 - Parks and Wildlife out in the cold

The state's fee-funded outdoors agency hasn't raised hunting, fishing and park fees since 2005. The agency already has cut $40 million and 50 staff members, but faces even deeper cuts without raising rates. Lawmakers said no. Bring on the cuts.

9 - Charter schools are getting cool

Charter schools are public schools, but they haven't been treated that way when it comes to tax dollars. This session they made headway. Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, and Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, pushed the equitable-funding issue to the last day, with results that had charter school champions cheering.

10 - Sanctuary cities, right to rest, Columbus Day

In a split Legislature, strictly partisan bills are doomed to fail. Nonetheless, long hours were put in arguing over arresting public officials for not boosting immigration laws in a sanctuary city. Homeless people still can't camp in public parks, if cities have an ordinance. Columbus Day in Colorado will continue to be celebrated and reviled.

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