Here’s a scorecard of what went well and what didn’t, or as some like to think of it, winners and losers in the 2019 legislative session.
Transportation (for now)
The Legislature dropped an extra $300 million to address jammed interstates and deteriorating roads and bridges this year, but most of that money isn’t guaranteed next year. Gov. Jared Polis applauded the budget carve-out.
Senate Bill 263, the last bill introduced in the 2019 session, reflected an agreement between Democrats and Republicans to do a one-year delay on seeking voter approval for transportation bonding in the wake of the failure of two highway funding ballot questions last fall. Lawmakers, however, passed Senate Bill 51 to add $190 million from the General Fund next year, with $161.5 million for the state highway fund and $28.5 million to counties and cities.
Polis’ 100-day promises
Polis relied on the Legislature to help him keep his promise to tackle many of the state’s toughest problems in his first 100 days as governor. He has room to boast: State-paid full-day kindergarten, a plan to save Coloradans money on health care, progress on renewable energy and zero-emissions vehicles and historic investments in transportation and education.
He said he had visited 33 cities and 19 counties and 195 speaking engagements in his first few months in office.
“I’m very proud of what we accomplished in the first 100 days,” Polis said in his office. “... We are moving forward on our bold vision for the future of Colorado.”
People who earn the minimum wage could make a little more because of a local option granted by the Legislature. In resort communities and other locations with a high cost of living, local governments could raise pay above the state minimum thanks to House Bill 1210.
After five years of trying, Democrats passed the Equal Pay For Equal Work Act to address pay discrimination by sex. And though it wasn’t a complete win, a family-leave plan remained alive. Instead of creating the program to provide 12 weeks of paid leave for a family medical emergency outright, Senate Bill 188 was amended to form a task force to study the cost and feasibility of a program. Supporters expect it to form the basis of legislation to authorize the program next year.
It was a great year for EVs. Not only did the Legislature extend the state tax credit for alternative fueled vehicles, it also allowed major utilities to offset the cost of building charging stations in their utility rates, which is aimed at spurring construction of more stations. Lawmakers even passed a $150 fine for parking a regular vehicle in front of a charging station.
Rep. Williams’ manners
The session produced a kinder, gentler Williams, the state representative who made a name for himself with fiery conservative stands and partisan feuds. But if you listened to his April 3 remarks on his badge bill — the Freedom to Vote Act, to ban political parties from charging people fees to participate in caucuses or party assemblies — you might have thought it was someone else.
The bill died on April 1 at his request. Two days later, he thanked two Democrats, House Majority Leader Alec Garnett and Rep. Susan Lontine, who had co-sponsored the bill.
Williams noted that in the previous week, lawmakers had raised concerns about decorum.
“What happened Monday showed what we’re capable of. ... It speaks volumes on how the majority leader conducts himself and how he manages the calendar,” he said.
Of Lontine, he said her cooperation and support for a nonlegislative fix “speaks volumes about her character. Sometimes we don’t get it right, but this is an instance in which we did.”
Sen. Gardner’s tongue
As Republicans sought to slow down the Democratic majority’s push to the left, a few GOP senators stood out at the art of being loquacious — Owen Hill of Colorado Springs and Paul Lundeen of Monument among them.
But none were so gifted with the golden tongue as the “simple country lawyer” from Colorado Springs, Bob Gardner. He talked on and on about practically nothing but still stayed tethered to the bill at issue, even though the Democrats pounding the gavel often urged him to stay on topic.
So impressive was Gardner that by the end of the session, even Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, was using the new term for long talkers: “Bobbing.”
When you don’t have the cards, you play the hand you’re dealt. That’s what Republicans in the House and Senate minorities did this session.
It started with an attempt by Senate Republicans on March 11 to delay debate on Senate Bill 181, the oil and gas regulation bill. They called for having the 2,023-page bill read verbatim. Democrats used five computer programs reading different pages of the bill at the same time, which still took about seven hours. House Republicans also called for each word of bills to be read over and over, and they used an avalanche of failed amendments to stave off the inevitable Democratic vote.
Oil and gas
For years, antifracking forces have tried to put a leash on oil and gas operations in rapidly developing communities along the northern Front Range. Just last year, Proposition 112 to create 2,500-foot setbacks from homes, schools and businesses failed by 12 percentage points on the November ballot in a liberal election year.
In stepped the Colorado Legislature to pass Senate Bill 181, which grants local control over oil and gas to individual communities and requires the state regulatory board to focus on health and safety. Now voters could be asked to undo that work with another ballot question in the works for 2020.
Two days after the fracas over a computer reading a bill, the bomb cyclone hit Colorado. Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, refused to close down the Senate, despite warnings about the dire weather and risk to public safety, keeping elected officials and staff at their posts. Garcia, whose other job is as a first responder, told 9News’ Marshall Zellinger that his decision was driven by Republican delays earlier in the week.
Gun-rights advocates have lost another round in the statehouse, at least for now. And Democratic Sen. Brittany Pettersen delivered perhaps the session’s most head-scratching quote when she said the red-flag gun bill to disarm those who might pose a threat “is supported by an overwhelming majority of Coloradans, and outside of this building, it is not controversial.”
Soon, half of the counties in Colorado had passed resolutions declaring that they would not enforce House Bill 1177.
Recall committees formed quickly against lawmakers and the governor over the bill, possibly forcing a few to run again to keep their office this year.
House Bill 1312 was supposed to provide a better way of tracking exemptions from recommended school immunizations. Instead it became a test of wills between those who support vaccinations as a public health issue and those who oppose government intrusion into personal issues.
Hundreds of opponents jammed committee hearings and the chamber galleries as lawmakers debated the bill that ultimately died on the calendar at the end of the session.
Death penalty opponents
Twice this decade when Democrats controlled the House, Senate and governor’s office, party members have sought to repeal the death penalty, and twice they’ve failed.
This year Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora and other Democrats peeled off from Senate Bill 182 and joined with Republicans in the Senate in opposition. Two of the three men on Colorado’s death row are responsible for the murder of Fields’ son and his fiancee.
The bill was set aside rather than bringing it to a vote.