Polis, lege leaders agenda 2022

Gov. Jared Polis, joined by Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera and Democratic leaders of the General Assembly, discuss the 2022 legislative agenda. 

The slogans tied to the agendas both parties plan to tackle in the 2022 General Assembly session that starts Wednesday sound similar: affordability, public safety and education.

As Gov. Jared Polis and Democratic legislative leaders talked about their plans for 2022 during a noon press conference on the west steps of the state Capitol, Republicans, including House Minority Leader Rep. Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, stood nearby, chortling that the ideas being presented are remarkably similar to a Commitment to Colorado agenda his party rolled out last August.

"Their platform is the one we released in August," McKean said. 

And some of the ideas do look a lot alike: Democrats want to put more money into law enforcement, such as through investing more in forensics and investigations or supporting recruitment and retention of officers, and by addressing recidivism. They also pledged to reduce or freeze certain fees, including some of the gas fees passed through legislation just seven months ago. The majority agenda also includes confronting the lack of affordable housing and the high cost of child care.

Republicans last summer rolled out a 10-point "Commitment to Colorado" program that included calls to reduce costs, including at the gas pump, and to put more investments into public safety, particularly for law enforcement. 

"I'm proud of what we've accomplished together, even during challenging times," Polis said Monday. But the work is not done, he said, adding, "We are called again to meet the needs of the moment." Coloradans need help with costs going up faster than their income, he said.  

In particular, Democrats will work on a targeted fee relief package, contained in the governor's budget request submitted to the Joint Budget Committee in November and modified last week. That includes reducing vehicle registration fees, along with gas and driver's license fees; cutting the state fees to open a new business; delaying the imposition of fees tied to paid family leave; and, reducing or temporarily eliminating license renewal fees for nurses and other health care professionals.

"We've made real progress" on pandemic recovery, said Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo. "We will build" on the momentum of the last two years, he added.

Garcia said the General Assembly would invest $1 billion to address crime prevention, affordable housing and behavioral mental health.

"We can prevent crime from occurring and protect Coloradans from being victims in the first place ... we're teaming up with local governments to combine our resources with their community expertise and to fund crime prevention programs," he said, adding, "These are smart, innovative, evidence-based solutions while taking the individual needs of the community into account."

Speaker of the House Alec Garnett, D-Denver, said the legislature has responsibly led Colorado through the pandemic, and this year, policymakers will redouble efforts to help people save money, improve public health and public safety.

On affordable housing, the legislature will direct almost $400 million in federal funds to reduce housing costs, such as creating a revolving loan fund to develop affordable housing units, he said, adding the money will also help develop prefabricated homes, which, in turn, will create jobs. 

Climate change is also on the agenda, according to Senate Majority Leader Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, who talked about plans to address the state's poor air quality, which was rated as the worst last summer.

"This is not work that can wait until tomorrow," he said.

Legislation will focus on major investments to crack down on polluters, tackle transportation emissions through electrification of school busses and trucks, and ensure the Air Quality Control Commission has the tools it needs to enforce existing regulations, he said. 

The next fiscal year budget is poised to make the largest investment in history in K-12 public education, through increased per pupil funding, according to House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo. 

Given that some of the goals for both parties on public safety appear to be similar, Polis said he hopes for bipartisan cooperation.

And he said "now is not the time" to increase the gas tax, which under SB 21-260 would be adjusted annually for inflation.

"Let's show people relief at the pump," he said.  

That drew criticisms from McKean, who pointed out that Polis called the gas fee a tax, which he said should have gone to the voters for approval.

"They've passed bills that have eviscerated policing in this state," McKean said, adding while Democrats say "they're getting tough on crime," the governor had signed every policing bill that came to his desk.

McKean also pointed to educational choice, part of the Republican agenda. He said the pathway pushed by Democrats has been to go to school and then to college, which has led to a "stigma" that caused people to avoid going into trades. Now, it's hard to find plumbers and electricians, said McKean, a general contractor.

The Republican leader said he is skeptical of what Democrats want to do, particularly on affordability. 

Delaying fees will not make Colorado more affordable, McKean said.

"You're trying to make yourself more electable" by delaying those fees into the next election cycle, he said, arguing that to make things more affordable, the fees should be eliminated, not just delayed. 

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