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Colorado Legislature Limps Toward Finish Line

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(credit: CBS)

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DENVER (AP) – Colorado’s first divided Legislature in a decade is limping toward the finish line with plenty of topics to settle before the final gavels fall Wednesday.

The biggest obstacle facing the Democratic Senate and Republican House is congressional redistricting, a process required every 10 years to adjust district lines after a Census. Lawmakers entered the session’s final weekend with no agreement ready to be signed into law as they bickered over how to change the state’s seven congressional districts.

“I’m very hopeful that we’re still going to pull something together,” Republican Rep. David Balmer, a top House redistricting negotiator, predicted last week. But he conceded the matter may swamp other business still pending.

“My life has been all things redistricting,” Balmer said.

Among other things, lawmakers must decide:

– How to adjust sweeping medical marijuana regulations adopted last year, including new registry requirements for caregivers and a plant limit for makers of cannabis-infused foods;

– Whether to reduce penalties for delinquent taxpayers during an “amnesty” period designed to raise cash;

– Whether to allow criminal defendants in some cases to post bond without going through bail bondsmen, despite vigorous opposition from the bondsmen;

– Whether to create “john school” diversion programs for people who seek adult prostitutes;

– Whether to repeal sales taxes on out-of-state online retailers; and

– Whether to give wildlife officials the ability to expand bear hunting dates.

All told, hundreds of proposals still have a chance until Wednesday. That gives lawmakers a short window to try to push through favored measures — and stop what they don’t like.

So far, each party has spent much of its time rejecting ideas from the other side. Democrats have shot down a series of immigration crackdowns proposed by the GOP, while Republicans have felled Democratic proposals to allow same-sex civil unions and in-state tuition for Colorado students who are illegal immigrants.

Lawmakers from both parties conceded that they’ve spent a lot of time defending against bills they don’t like.

“I don’t think it’s something that surprises anybody,” said Republican Sen. Kent Lambert. “We’ve gotten a lot of things done, but a lot has gotten stopped by the other chamber, whichever chamber you pick.”

The news isn’t all bad. Both parties are talking up their biggest accomplishment of the year — agreeing to an $18 billion budget for next year that cut nearly a half-billion dollars to accommodate sinking tax receipts. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the budget into law Friday.

The budget dominated lawmakers’ attention until a few weeks ago, and both sides will leave Denver pointing to success stories in the spending plan.

Democrats rejected most GOP tax cuts that they said would have further cut K-12 education; Republicans will highlight their success getting Democrats to agree to restore some sales-tax rebates to retailers and tax exemptions on agricultural products and software.

“I think there’s been more bipartisan work than in a lot of past sessions, to be honest with you,” said House Democratic Leader Sal Pace. “And the big things we have left, we’ll be working around the clock to get them done.”

- By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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