DENVER (AP) – What’s been a sleepy legislative session is about to ramp up as Colorado lawmakers head into the final two months with significant debates pending, including the annual budget, increasing oversight on police, and whether to pass new fracking regulations.
At the halfway point of the session Saturday, few proposals have passed, and the ones that have succeeded have been minor or technical.
Call it a consequence of the division of powers at the statehouse, with Democrats controlling the House and Republicans the Senate.
As Democratic House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst bluntly put it: “We are killing a few of the ideological bills coming from the Senate. There are a few of ours that may get the same treatment.”
Whatever victories each party has achieved have been largely symbolic.
Senate Republicans are advancing a repeal of a 15-round ammunition magazine limit, and an expansion of background checks for private and online sales. Both laws were adopted by Democrats in 2013 when they controlled both chambers.
While those repeal bills are expected to pass the Senate, they’re doomed in the House. Some have already been rejected.
“We’re not going backwards,” Hullinghorst said.
House Democrats, meanwhile, are advancing a bill to keep a commission that studies pay disparities affecting women and minorities.
Senate Republicans have voted to disband the commission that’s due to expire in July, and they’ll likely stop Democrat efforts to continue it.
Still pending for the second half of the session:
– The state’s budget, aptly named the Long Bill, which details Colorado’s spending for the next year. With divided chambers, negotiations between the two parties are likely to be more intense than in prior years when Democrats held complete control.
– A series of bills still awaiting debate address student testing. Lawmakers from both parties have expressed concern that Colorado students spend too much time taking standardized tests. Lawmakers will consider bills to limit testing to federal minimums and to eliminate some tests for the latest grades in high school.
– House Democrats are proposing several bills placing limits on law enforcement and oversight on department practices. Measures include banning chokeholds, having a special prosecutor review decisions in cases of excessive or deadly force, and increasing the use of body cameras.
– Both parties want to see a measure asking voters to approve pot taxes a third time, a maneuver to overcome a quirk in Colorado tax law that could require the state to refund more than $44 million in new recreational pot taxes. Lawmakers say they’re holding off until a final update on the size of the pot taxes, which is expected later this month.
– Democrats have been advocating for more local government control over fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, but it’s unknown how big of a push they’ll make on the matter. A task force appointed by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper disappointed some in his party who wanted more guidance on what local governments can do to regulate drilling in residential areas.
Lawmakers are also weighing whether to ban the use of speeding and red-light cameras, increasing penalties for repeat DUI offenders, and punishments for bullying on social media.
For now, Republican House Leader Brian DelGrosso said neither party can claim an advantage.
“Neither side can really right now I think spike the football and say, ‘My gosh, we really got the upper hand of this going on,'” he said.
“I think right now the people of Colorado, as of right now, are the winners,” he said. “There really hasn’t been anything that’s come out there that’s been contentious that can be considered harmful to folks.”
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
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