Colorado Session Ends With Contentious Bills Settled
DENVER (AP) – Colorado lawmakers concluded a historic session Wednesday that saw ruling Democrats exert their power to pass sweeping gun laws, same-sex civil unions, and in-state tuition for immigrants in the country illegally.
The legislative session also included new regulations on the legalization of marijuana, approved by voters in November. But the 120-day session didn’t end without a few big ideas left on the table.
By the time the end rolled around, lawmakers were in a jovial mood in the Senate, singing “Take Me Out To the Ball Game,” slinging rubber-bands and tossing a plastic ball. House Republicans smoked cigars at a balcony outside the chamber.
Legislators tackled some of the most contentious ideas early on, including the strictest gun laws in Colorado’s history, with limits on the size of ammunition magazines and universal background checks.
Those proposals drew strong opposition from Republicans. But Democrats consolidated power after November’s elections after two years of split-chamber control, and they used their numbers to easily pass the legislation they wanted.
They 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 also wielded their power to pass an overhaul of elections law – which includes same-day voter registration – now pending a decision from Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat.
Democrats made no apologies for setting an ambitious legislative agenda.
“We basically decided, we’re not messing around,” said Senate Democratic Leader Morgan Carroll, adding that Democrats didn’t want to use their newfound power to pursue bills that “move commas and don’t really change life for the people of Colorado.”
“We would rather be criticized for tackling too many of Colorado’s problems than not enough,” Carroll said.
Republicans saw it differently.
“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.”
The final day was mostly a victory lap for Democrats. But lawmakers did finish work on a few outstanding items, most notably bills to tax and regulate recreational marijuana.
Legislators 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.
And a regulatory measure also approved Wednesday 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 proposals to increase oversight of the oil and gas industry. Democrats wanted crackdowns on the industry, including increased minimum fines for drilling violations, new limits on industry executives serving on the state’s regulatory board, and stricter water-testing requirements. By the final day, those measures were defeated.
Soon after lawmakers adjourned, Hickenlooper ordered oil and gas regulators to review penalties and fines. An executive order told regulators to undertake any necessary policy and rule changes and report to him by Dec. 10.
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 on the use of 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 penalties in Colorado.
By midafternoon, though, lawmakers were hugging and talking about plans for the next few months.
By Ivan Moreno, Kristen Wyatt, AP Writers
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