Flood recovery, economy and education expected to highlight new legislative session
January 10, 2014
State Sen. Scott Renfroe hopes that the new Colorado legislative session beginning Wednesday isn't as divisive between the two parties as last year's session.
"I pray it can't get worse," said Renfroe, R-Greeley, who will be serving his last year in the Senate because of term limits. "Last year was unbelievable. It was sad what happened last year. In my life, I've never seen citizens come to the capital and not get to testify on a bill, and that happened last year."
Between new gun control laws and renewable energy standards, the Democratic majority in the House and Senate didn't make a lot of friends on the other side of the aisle.
Renfroe thinks the new session, which runs until May 8, will be a quieter one because 2014 is an election year.
Colorado House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, said in a telephone interview that last year's session wasn't as rancorous as portrayed.
"Ninety-four percent of the bills that passed last session passed with bipartisan support, and my goal this year is to see if we can even surpass that with the amount of bills we have with bipartisan support," Ferrandino said. "Inside the glass, I didn't see that bitterness. We had 27 new members in the legislative House last year. That definitely changed some of the dynamics. I think over the last year some of those relationships are stronger between Democrats and Republicans because of arguing bills and coming to respect each other."
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Ferrandino said the three major issues for the upcoming session will be the flood recovery, economy and education.
He noted that Colorado is one of the fastest-growing states for job growth and is ranked in the top five in the country, and that there are jobs out there.
"We have to make sure we're growing a stronger, more secure economy, one that is built from the middle out," said Ferrandino, who will also be serving in his last legislative session due to term limits.
He mentioned the bipartisan flood recovery committee that includes six Democrats and six Republicans and is chaired by two Weld County lawmakers — Renfroe and Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley.
"There are things that we can do legislatively both to help the people who have been impacted, and to prepare for future floods and make sure we're better prepared the next time. The flood waters didn't discriminate between Democrat or Republican counties or Democrat and Republican houses," Ferrandino said.
As far as education, Ferrandino said there have been significant reforms in the education field despite the failure of Amendment 66 that would have increased taxes by almost $1 billion annually, and that the Republicans have announced some things they'd like to see.
"I think there is some common ground there as we move forward," Ferrandino said.
Renfroe, who is the ranking Republican on the Education Committee, said there is a $1.1 billion surplus in the state education fund that needs to be addressed.
Two local representatives — Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Severance, and Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins — did not respond to telephone calls or email requests seeking their legislative goals for 2014.
Here are some of the bills local representatives plan to sponsor when the new session begins.
REP. DAVE YOUNG, D-GREELEY
Young is sponsoring a bill in the 2014 legislative session to reduce a burdensome property tax paid by thousands of Colorado businesses. The bill, which Young will co-sponsor with Rep. Dianne Primavera, D-Broomfield, is expected to be introduced in the early days of the new legislative session. The bill would allow business owners to claim a refund on the taxes they pay on the first $25,000 of business personal property.
Unlike previous attempts at a business personal property tax reduction, this bill would not cut into the revenues of local governments and school districts.
"This bill will help thousands of Colorado businesses, including hundreds that were impacted by the September floods," Young said.
Another bill Young will sponsor with Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, is the continued funding of advanced industries off the success of the bipartisan House Bill 13-1001 "The Advanced Industries Accelerator Act."
Young said the economic development legislation is creating new highly-skilled jobs, increasing exports, driving innovation and capital investment, among other development activities.
He said $3 million has been awarded to some of those applicants who applied for grants.
"We have the structure in place for the grant program. This piece is how do we continue to fund it? We've had this overwhelming response," Young said.
Young will also sponsor a bill that is connected to flood recovery and how schools in disaster areas could get priority so they get money right away and waive any matching requirements in funding mechanisms such as the Building Excellent Schools Today program or FEMA assistance.
SEN. SCOTT RENFROE, R-GREELEY
Renfroe will once again sponsor a red-light camera bill to end the use of red-light cameras and photo radar, although the photo radar would still be allowed in work zones.
"Potentially, I could have some strong co-sponsors this year where that bill might have a little bit of life and a little support across the aisle," Renfroe said.
Renfroe said when looking at the studies, it's a revenue enhancer for cities but it doesn't increase safety.
"Studies show that it increases accidents," Renfroe said. "I think there are other things we can do at intersections to increase safety. We can time our lights better. We can have longer yellow lights."
Renfroe will also carry a bill that will try to take the power away from the governor to ban the sale, transportation and possession of firearms during an emergency.
"I'm going to try to restrict some of his powers within an emergency when it deals with firearms," Renfroe said. "Right now, if he declares an emergency of any type he could ban the sale of firearms and the carry of a firearm, which I think is unconstitutional and tramples our Second Amendment."
Renfroe will sponsor a bill that will incorporate some recommendations off the study funded two years ago and recently released from Colorado State University of the South Platte River (flow of the Platte, surface water, ground water, etc.) and senior water rights.
REP. PERRY BUCK, R-WINDSOR
Buck said she will once again co-sponsor a bill with Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, for non-victim, non-violent felons who have paid back their restitution and completed community service.
If, after five years, they haven't done anything wrong, they can submit a request to the district attorney and the judge to get their rights back to vote and own guns.
"If you're late on your sales tax you could become a felon," Buck said. "If you trespass at 16 years old, you are a felon for life. If you write a bad check, you're a felon."
A bill that Buck wasn't ready to address that she plans to sponsor is the medical tort reform bill, but it's not ready to be rolled out.
REP. LORI SAINE, R-FIRESTONE
Saine said a lot of her focus will be on gun issues and energy issues.
"For example, I'll be sponsoring the repeal of the magazine ban. Magpul (a firearms accessories and complete firearms designer and manufacturer based in Erie) is in my district and they're moving to Texas and Wyoming," Saine said.
The company made good on its threat to leave Colorado after the legislature passed a law last year that banned weapons magazines with more than 15 rounds.
"I want to repeal that bill passed. No limits on our Second Amendment rights," Saine said. "Two-hundred jobs just in my district are exiting. It has a huge impact. It's something like $80 million a year to the state."
Saine said she will also carry a bill to repeal SB 252, the bill that doubled the renewable-energy target for rural electric cooperatives from 10 percent to 20 percent by 2020.