DENVER (AP) — The legislative session that begins Wednesday in Colorado promises no shortage of juicy debates — from gun control and marijuana, to end-of-life decisions and new limits on oil and gas drilling.
But it’s an open question whether a Legislature sharply divided between Republicans and Democrats will manage to agree on those proposals.
After two years of Democratic control, the Legislature is newly divided. Republicans control the Senate by a single seat, and Democrats hold the House by just three seats.
“We’re spending a lot of time reaching across the aisle to find out, where are the places we can find common ground?” said incoming Senate President Bill Cadman, a Colorado Springs Republican.
Despite pre-session vows to compromise from Cadman and other legislative leaders, the Capitol’s narrow margins makes partisan gridlock hard to avoid.
Lawmakers are certain to finish work on a state budget and education spending plan, two measures they’re required to complete.
That doesn’t mean getting a spending plan to the governor’s desk will be easy. Colorado’s improving economy and spending restrictions mean lawmakers face a vigorous debate over what to do about the revenue windfall — either awarding it back to taxpayers through tax cuts and refunds as they are required by law, or garnering public support to ask voters to keep the surplus to shore up programs cut during the last recession.
Aside from the spending bills, it will be difficult for anything substantial to reach the desk of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.
All eyes will be on the new GOP Senate, where Republicans may try to repeal laws passed under Democrats the last two years. Among the likely targets for Republicans are gun-control measures passed in 2013, including a limit on the size of ammunition magazines, and a higher renewable energy standard for rural electricity providers.
The GOP wish list also includes additional scrutiny for Colorado state-run health insurance exchange, established to implement the federal health care law. Republicans may also take a crack at the Education Department’s new Common Core State Standards, a national school curriculum adopted in Colorado but unpopular with conservatives.
Democrats have different priorities. They’ll be pushing for measures to address income inequality, including college tuition and student-loan assistance and limiting interest rates on credit cards.
The goal, Democrats say, is to help a middle-class that is still hurting despite the economic recovery.
“They still are struggling to make ends meet. They aren’t able to save for retirement or for their kids’ future or for a rainy day,” said Democratic Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, the incoming House speaker.
House Democrats plan to push for a new law giving terminally ill people authority to end their lives. Other proposals include a new background-check requirement for volunteers in amateur youth sports, and forbidding public schools from using Native American mascots unless they have permission from a tribe.
But mostly, Democrats will be playing defense to protect the laws passed during the last couple years. For example, they will likely resist changes to the renewable-energy upgrade.
Asked about their plans for the term, Democrats from both chambers repeatedly say they’ll fight GOP efforts to strike contentious laws from the past.
“We will not roll back the tremendous amount of progress we made the last two years,” Hullinghorst said.
Perhaps a surprising area of agreement will be marijuana. Lawmakers from both parties say they’ll push to keep new taxes collected on recreational marijuana, even if lawyers say that means returning to voters this fall to ask permission. Lawmakers are almost certain to renew regulations on the medical marijuana industry, which sunset this year if legislators do nothing.
By Ivan Moreno and Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press
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