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Colorado Lawmakers Wrap Up Weighty Term

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Colorado Legislature (credit: CBS)

Colorado Legislature (credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) — Colorado lawmakers were closing a contentious and weighty term Wednesday with big decisions settled on gun control to immigration to marijuana. But the 120-day session didn’t end without a dose of partisan sniping and a few big ideas left on the table.

Lawmakers were expected to leave Denver with a lighter-than-usual final day. That wasn’t because the agenda this year was meager. Rather, lawmakers tackled some of the most contentious ideas early, including the most strict gun laws in Colorado’s history, with limits on the size of ammunition magazines and universal background checks.

Democrats in control of the Legislature also approved same-sex civil unions and in-state tuition for immigrants in the country illegally who graduate from Colorado high schools.

In a normal year, those bills would’ve been enough to define a landmark legislative session for Democrats. But they’ve exerted their power to also pass an overhaul of elections law — which includes same-day voter registration — now pending a decision from Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat.

On the final day, lawmakers were settling small differences recreational marijuana regulations and taxes. But they appeared to have settled the thorniest questions around marijuana, including a driving blood limit for marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, THC.

Lawmakers Wednesday agreed to ask voters to approve pot taxes of 25 percent — a 15 percent excise tax earmarked for school construction, and a 10 percent special marijuana sales tax to pay for pot regulation. Those would be in addition to statewide and local sales taxes.

A regulatory measure took more time Wednesday, but agreement seemed certain before lawmakers finished work by midnight. The regulatory measure includes rules for who can be in the marijuana business, purchasing limits for out-of-state visitors, and a long series of product safety and packaging guidelines for how to sell the newly legal drug.

Lawmakers were less successful agreeing on a series of proposals to increase oversight of the oil and gas industry. Democrats proposed crackdowns on the industry ranging from increased minimum fines for drilling violations, to new limits on industry executives serving on the state’s regulatory board, to stricter water-testing requirements. By the final day, those measures were either dead or headed toward defeat.

A tense, emotional debate over whether to repeal the death penalty ended in defeat in March, cutting short what would’ve been a heated topic in the final weeks of the session.

On Wednesday, lawmakers also shelved new restrictions to tanning beds by minors. And a change to sentencing laws for people convicted of certain sex crimes against children went nowhere despite a heavy push by minority Republicans for the Jessica’s Law-style law in Colorado. That measure triggered some partisan sniping. Leading Republicans and Democrats crowded a table of reporters to accuse each other of petty gamesmanship on the matter.

“It’s a terrible disappointment,” said Republican Rep. Frank McNulty.

Partisanship is a constant backdrop in a legislative body. But lawmakers from both parties appeared a bit battle-scarred in the final hours from a long, contentious session.

“I think it’ll be remembered as one of the most divisive and overreaching sessions in the history of the state,” said Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, the GOP’s House leader. “I’ve heard lobbyists who have been here 20 or 30 years say that they have not seen this much weighty legislation jammed into one session.”

Democrats made no apologies for setting an ambitious agenda for them term.

“There’s been this shtick going on that this session has been the most difficult, the most bills,” Senate President John Morse said. “We did big issues, no question. We are addressing the problems that are confronting Colorado. We’re not just saying, ‘no, no, no.’ We’re like, ‘How can we make this work?'”

By Ivan Moreno, Kristen Wyatt, AP Writers (© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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