DENVER (AP) – Sprinting toward the session finale, Colorado House Democrats have plowed through a bevy of weighty legislation in the past week, including union bills and an overhaul of how elections are run.
The frenzied pace in the previous week – which has included a number of major bills usually seen over the span of a month – provides a glimpse of what’s already been a voluminous session for Democrats in control.
They have already passed landmark legislation allowing civil unions, lower tuition for students who entered the country illegally and tighter restrictions on firearms – all bills approved with little or no Republican support.
And there are still substantial bills pending in the final three weeks of the session, including marijuana regulations, an expansion of Medicaid and an overhaul of the decades-old state system for funding public schools. The school bill, which the House was debating Monday, relies on a $1 billion tax increase voters will decide on later.
Last week, the House legislative calendar was so packed that Democratic House Speaker Mark Ferrandino told lawmakers they would need to work the weekend. That didn’t happen, but lawmakers spent several late nights at the Capitol debating major pieces of legislation, while bickering about whether the opposing party was talking too long on the proposals and raising the specter of a special session.
Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Mark Waller, the GOP House leader, said the divisive bills Democrats have introduced have slowed down the process, not Republican debate.
“What are we supposed to do? Just roll over and let them pass this what we believe is horrible policy for the people of the state of Colorado? I don’t think that’s appropriate. We still have a responsibility to fight for what we believe is right,” he said.
The torrent of significant bills comes as Democrats regained control of the House, after two years in the minority, and retained their control of the Senate in November. Also, with a Democrat in the governor’s office, the party need not bow to Republicans on many issues.
Denver Democratic Rep. Lois Court said it’s true her party’s bills have led to a packed calendar and longer debates.
“There’s a whole lot of work that we wanted to do, and we’re trying to do it,” Court said.
To which Waller quipped, “Whether that work is incredibly partisan or not.”
On Monday, the House gave final approval to bills they spent hours debating last week, including the last two gun measures on the Democrats’ package in response to last year’s mass shootings. One bill requires conceal-carry permit seekers to show handgun competency in person, such as demonstrating knowledge of where the safety is. Another bill strengthens a ban on gun ownership by domestic offenders by establishing a process for them to relinquish their firearms.
House Democrats also passed a union bill Monday despised by Republicans, who unanimously opposed it. The bill would grant unemployment benefits to workers during lockouts.
A bill enhancing labor rights for professional firefighters, and a proposal expanding legal remedies for employee discrimination at small businesses also passed the House last week with no Republican support after hours of debate.
And Democrats have Republicans riled up about sweeping changes to election rules, allowing same-day voter registration and mailing ballots to all registered voters. That bill, which is now in the Senate, passed the House last week with all Republicans voting no.
“This is very ambitious agenda, and you know our jobs are to represent our constituents,” Court said.
Many of the bills the House has recently passed still have to go to the Senate for consideration, and long arguments are also expected there. Meanwhile, the House is waiting to consider Senate bills allowing driver’s licenses for immigrants in the country illegally, and raising renewable energy requirements for rural electricity co-ops.
“We don’t have the votes,” Waller said of his party. “And so the way we fight for the citizens of the state of Colorado, is through exercising our voice. And if that takes hours to do, on extremely weighty legislation, then so be it.”
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
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