By Shaun Boyd
DENVER (CBS4) – The 2017 legislative session starts Wednesday at the state Capitol and this year’s Legislature includes a record number of African-American lawmakers and the state’s first Latina speaker of the house.
But some things haven’t changed — Republicans still control the Senate and Democrats the House — and some of the same issues will be back too.
“We’re still dealing with a lot of things we just weren’t able to get done last year. It just feels like this is Part 2,” said Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, pointing to transportation funding as one example. “Is that going to be done through taxpayer dollars or is that going to be done through bonding, and even then, how do you then pay back the bond?”
Education funding is a challenge again this year as well. Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, has a bill to help retain rural educators.\
“We’re going to have to get incentives in place to pull people in even to the extent of possibly helping with their housing,” Crowder said.
Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, agrees.
“When you have teachers who qualify for welfare that’s an issue, especially in rural Colorado,” Sonnenberg said.
Sonnenberg will also introduce a bill aimed at anti-fracking protesters who tamper with pipelines, like the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.
“Those penalties need to be harsher so we don’t have an explosion or some sort of catastrophe that’s similar to a terrorist event,” he said.
Affordable housing will be taking on added urgency this session as well. Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, will be introducing legislation to address the shortage of affordable homes.
“Where new Coloradans are working, they should also be able to live … incentivizing affordable housing being built and properly funding the affordable housing fund,” Danielson said.
Danielson will also introduce a bill on college affordability.
What happens at the state Capitol this session will also depend in part on the new administration of President-elect Donald Trump, which could impact everything from marijuana policy to oil and gas development to health care.
“He’s pledged to get the federal government out of the way and allow states to make their own decisions, so I’m optimistic,” said Sonnenberg.
Democrats are less optimistic.
“We’re going to be looking at a lot in terms of playing defense with Washington unfortunately with Colorado,” said Melton.
Melton has lead police reform efforts at the state Capitol the last few years and says he will have new bills dealing with traffic stops and de-escalation training.
Among the new issues lawmakers will take up this year is a push for more “tiny” homes in Colorado. Crowder has a bill on that issue.
Despite their differences, the two parties have little choice but to work together this session.
“That’s the beauty of having split chambers. You have to find consensus,” said Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson.