A quieter, more bipartisan Colorado legislative session ends this week
May 8, 2014
With less than one week remaining in the 2014 Colorado legislative session, the divisiveness of 2013 between the Republicans and Democrats has failed to surface.
The controversy over new gun control laws and renewable energy standards in last year's session created quite a stir, but the session that concludes Wednesday has been much quieter.
The bipartisan effort between the two parties passed bills that impacted those affected by the 2013 floods.
They also came together on two bills to strengthen K-12 and higher education with more funding.
“I think the occurrence of the floods and the following tragedy, combined with the tightness of the partisan margin, has led to more bipartisanship, yes.
Colorado State University political science advisor
"It seems like there's more bills coming on a bipartisan basis," said state Rep. Perry Buck, R-Windsor.
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State Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, said the slim margin of the Democrats' majority in the Senate — 18-17 — played a role in this year's session and provided more of a balance.
"In an 18-17, it just takes one person, and we saw that on the Student Success Act," Renfroe said. "There was one Democrat that came and didn't like the form that it was in to start and that changed the bill immensely with the 17 Republicans staying consistent and firm on how they wanted that bill and the funding to go. Out of my eight years, this one was probably the most interesting from that perspective of having input in a lot of policy that usually the majority decides and that's it."
Kyle Saunders, Colorado State University political science professor, said the floods and slim margin in the Senate are two reasons why.
"I think the occurrence of the floods and the following tragedy, combined with the tightness of the partisan margin, has led to more bipartisanship, yes," Saunders said. "The Legislature has had to come together and produce effective policy to address those events. Also, small majorities, like those present in the Colorado Senate, tend to lead to less controversy and more policy moderation because a single, moderate member can cross 'team lines' and, therefore, play an important role in moderating and shaping legislation."
State Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, said of the approximately 660 bills in 2013, 440 of them passed and 94 percent of them were bipartisan. Young said this session should be no different.
"We don't have the numbers yet, but I bet you're going to see a similar thing," Young said. "We got a balanced budget and it was bipartisan."
Saunders said the fact that this session precedes an election year also hasn't hurt.
"Controversial votes tend to draw more attention due to the increased salience of politicians brought by an election," Saunders said.
Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, agreed. "It's an election year," Saine said and laughed.
Local state representatives sponsored and had passed a variety of bills in 2014.
Young said he pushed 15 bills. Among them and still pending is House Bill 1002, which creates a grant fund to repair or rebuild water and wastewater plants damaged or destroyed by the floods.
Young said HB 1005 — relocating ditch headgates without a change case order — is already through and he sponsored that bill with state Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.
"In some cases, the damage to a ditch headgate may have been that the channel was scoured out and the river bed is actually lower than the diversion is," said Young. "What the bill is designed to do is to allow someone with rights to move that headgate to recapture the water they're due without having to go through water court."
A Young bill awaiting the governor's signature concerns the Building Excellent Schools Today Grant Program.
"We asked that money from that program be prioritized so that if a school was damaged in a declared natural disaster that they would get priority for getting the repairs done." Young said.
Young sponsored HB 1011 with state Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, that would continue to expand Colorado's developing advanced industries, which include aerospace, engineering and other high-tech businesses.
The bill builds on legislation from the 2013 session and allocates additional funding for businesses in advanced industries. Young said that since December, almost $5 million has been awarded to Colorado companies and research institutions.
A disappointment for Renfroe, who had some flood bills go through, was the red-light camera bill that was killed. Colorado lawmakers rejected a measure to study speeding and red-light cameras to determine whether they should be banned. A House committee voted 8-5 against advancing the proposal Wednesday.
The proposal sponsored by Renfroe in the Senate and Democratic House Speaker Mark Ferrandino initially sought to ban the cameras, but it was amended to be a study bill after staunch opposition from law enforcement.
"It's clear citizens don't like cameras. It's unfortunate that government looks at the revenue more than safety," Renfroe said.
Two bills sponsored by Saine that passed are SB 51 and HB 1042 relating to adoption. They restore basic civil rights to adult adoptees and birth parents giving them access to information.
Renfroe and Humphrey co-sponsored a bill allowing concealed carry for security officers in charter schools.
"That was a good bill for safety in our (charter) schools," Renfroe said.
Buck said she had no bills pass through this session. Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Severance, did not return phone calls seeking his input for this story.