DENVER (AP) – Colorado Democrats are coming off a year of monumental legislation and huge controversy.
Amid often tense opposition, the majority party passed civil unions for gay couples, allowed same-day voter registration, imposed new renewable energy standards on rural power companies and reduced tuition for students in the country illegally – and those debates weren’t nearly as heated as the fighting over the state’s new gun restrictions.
This year, Colorado Democrats are hoping to leave such difficult discussions in the past and move on to other topics, such as education and the economy.
Republicans, however, aren’t about to let their political rivals off the hook so easily – especially not in an election year.
“Frankly, when you look at the outcry after the last session, there are some things that need to be looked at again,” said Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman.
The GOP could take control of the Senate in November, breaking the legislative stranglehold Democrats have by controlling both chambers of the Statehouse and the governor’s office.
At the top of the minority party’s priority list will be efforts to undo ammunition magazine limits and new background check requirements.
Democrats have no interest in revisiting those laws, which cost three state senators their seats – two were voted out in recall elections driven by gun-rights advocates and another felt compelled to resign as a recall effort against her was mounting – and insist they are good policies.
“I would not favor a repeal of either of these,” said incoming Senate President Morgan Carroll, a Democrat whose district includes the suburban Denver theater where a gunman killed 12 people and wounded dozens of others in the summer of 2012. That tragedy, and the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary in Connecticut, prompted Democrats to pass the laws that restrict ammunition magazines to 15 rounds and require background checks on private and online firearm transfers.
Democrats hold only a one-seat majority in the Senate after the two recalls, and the slim margin makes it plausible that repeal attempts can advance. Also, it’s given Republicans motivation to go after other laws they didn’t like last year.
“It’s I guess deja vu all over again,” Cadman said.
The most likely targets include an attempt to change or undo portions of the election law overhaul, which implemented Election Day voter registration and now require ballots to be mailed to all registered voters.
Republicans also want to change a regulation that doubles renewable energy requirements for rural electricity providers, which were cited – along with the gun restrictions – as reasons why conservative leaders in rural counties made a push to secede from Colorado and form a 51st state.
“The majority party was definitely seen as very left-leaning last year,” said Republican Rep. Brian DelGrosso, the GOP leader in the House.
There will be opportunity for compromise, however, on some education proposals that were part of Amendment 66, the $1 billion tax hike that voters rejected in November.
DelGrosso said his party liked some of those plans, such as improving help for English-language learners and transparency around school budgeting. But his party didn’t want the tax increase, and he said they believe some of those ideas can be implemented without raising taxes.
“You need to do it within existing resources, and that’s the result of the vote that was out there,” DelGrosso said.
Democratic House Speaker Mark Ferrandino said there’s room to agree on education reforms.
“There are some things we overlap on, some things we don’t overlap on,” he said.
Both parties are also collaborating on bills to address the historic floods and wildfires from last year, including giving counties budgeting flexibility to fix their bridges and roads and creating a fund to buy equipment for firefighters.
Republicans and Democrats also agree the state should increase its budget reserves to be ready for unexpected events or economic downturns.
Democrats, ultimately, say they want to focus their attention on increasing funding to colleges and economic development.
“It really is about moving forward. We’re not coming down here to rehash the same fights we had last year,” Ferrandino said.
But in a big election year, Republicans want to make sure to draw attention to topics that will invigorate their base, meaning they are likely to make sure last year’s legislative session isn’t so easily forgotten.
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
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