Northern Colorado lawmakers optimistic about new session despite returning issues | MyWindsorNow.com

Northern Colorado lawmakers optimistic about new session despite returning issues

James Redmond
jredmond@greeleytribune.com

Colorado's new legislative session starts Wednesday but state lawmakers will face many of the same problems they confronted last year.

Budgetary woes and transportation needs will come back in a big way and other familiar topics — constructions defects, healthcare and education funding — will return too.

"It's just another year of struggling with dysfunction fiscal polices," said John Straayer, a political science professor at Colorado State University.

The state's revenue forecasts don't look great, and there's a possibility Colorado will hit the Taxpayer Bill of Rights cap again, he said. If that happens, legislators will have to deal with mandatory refunds from the state budget at the same time they have transportation, education and healthcare budgets all struggling to find more money.

"It's getting more and more difficult to make the budget work," Straayer said.

Despite prospects of last year's challenges returning for another round, many of Weld County's state representatives and senators said they feel optimistic at the start of the new lawmaking session.

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"I look forward to the opportunities," said Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.

But he also admits many crucial topics probably won't change from last year. Party dynamics won't change either. The Democrats still control the House and Republicans control the Senate. If the parties decide they don't want to play nice on a given issue, very little could get done.

"It's going to require compromise, everybody working to together to try and find the solutions that help us," Sonnenberg said.

Many northern Colorado legislators hope that cooperation might yield at least some successful solutions to Colorado's transportation issues, particularly Interstate 25 capacity.

Transportation is always a critical issue, said Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley.

"We need to figure out how to fund transportation," he said. "And how we get there is the question. Because some people might want tax hikes and myself, I prefer bonding. … So those are the things we need to work out and figure out."

How Colorado will pay for its future remains a big question, reaching far beyond transportation. It's a question Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, has already been hard at work to answer.

As a member of the legislature's Joint Budget Committee he's a part of a team tasked with craft the state's budget for next year.

It's a daunting task, he said, one that he and the other five members of the committee have been working on since November. But he's excited, he wants to see what they'll come up with to address the needs and challenges of Colorado's budget.

"The Governor's budget (proposal) … has a shortfall of about half a billion dollars, which is bigger than the shortfall last time," Young said. "So we've got a lot of challenges ahead of us."

But after November's election, there will be some fresh lawmakers in the Capitol to help deal with those challenges this session.

Those new lawmakers — and abundant talk of working together across party lines — offer hope for a productive session, Cooke said.

New legislators mean new ideas, Young said.

"That's always exciting," he added.

Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacano, said the session offers plenty of opportunity to get things done.

"I hope that we can come together, the House and Senate, and work out these solutions," she said.

2017 legislative session preview

Here’s a look at some topics legislators who represent Weld County say they want to address in legislation in the upcoming session.

Sen. John Cooke, Senate District 13

» Victim’s rights: Remove the statute of limitation on sexual assault and updating the victim’s rights bill to make it more relevant.

» Department of Corrections: Deal with the parole process.

» Education: Create guidelines for suspending students in the third grade and lower.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, Senate District 1

» Water: Increase water storage and keep water from leaving Colorado.

» Oil and gas: Create stiffer penalties for people who cut locks and tamper with valves on oil and gas pipelines.

Rep. Lori Saine, House District 63

» Construction defects: Although the details aren’t completed formed yet, she said she will try to create “common sense reform” and consumer protection.

Rep. Dave Young, House District 50

» Medicaid: Ensure everyone served by Medicaid gets the services they need, when they need them and balance that against the budgetary demands of the program.

» Guardians: Establish an office of public guardianship.

» Education: Reform assessment and accountability measures, online education and early childhood education.

Rep. Perry Buck, House District 49

» Telemedicine: Clean up some language from her previous telemedicine bill.

» TRANS Bonds: Create a bond program to fund transportation infrastructure projects.

Editor’s note: Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, and Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Severance, whose districts include part of Weld County, did not return multiple calls seeking comment.

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