DENVER (CBS4)– State lawmakers are back to work in the most diverse legislature in state history. There are more LGBTQ lawmakers, more Latino lawmakers and – in the House of Representatives – more women lawmakers than men.
There are also a lot of newcomers. A quarter of the House is made up of first-time lawmakers, including Rep. Rochelle Galindo of Greeley. A gay, Latina woman, she embodies the diversity at the Capitol this year, but it is working class families she says she represents. Her district is one of the poorest in the state.
“I come from a working class family. My dad works in oil and gas. My mom has worked in the meat industry for over 30 years and my regular job outside of the legislature is being a head custodian at an elementary school. I think its very important that we have regular people in these offices who understand what regular people are going through,” said Galindo.
Rep. Bri Buentello of Pueblo, another rookie lawmaker, says she is also driven, not by her identity, but by her community. A special education teacher in rural Colorado, her son has autism.
“Moving to Colorado and seeing the disparity in our classrooms for special education students is really what inspired me to run. My little boy’s classroom doesn’t even have air conditioning in Pueblo where heat routinely tops 100 degrees,” said Buentello.
While sex and race may not dominate the agenda, they will play a key role in several bills says Rep. Leslie Herod, “I think we’re going to be tackling issues that we haven’t talked about before. We’re going to be leaning pretty heavily on criminal justice reform.”
She says the large number of women will also change the dynamic, “As women I think we’re naturally a little bit more collaborative and plan to collaborate with all women including Republicans to get the job done for Colorado.”
Women also represent a third of Republicans in the House and Rep. Lois Landgraf is hoping to work with Democrats on a family leave bill that’s voluntary for business, “We need to make something that is the carrot that a business can offer as a benefit to attract people, to attract women.”
Republican Rep. Lori Saine is less optimistic, “One of the things I’m afraid is that there’s going to be a purely partisan agenda being pushed through – more government, less freedoms – half of Colorado is going to be ignored.”
Not only do Democrats control both chambers this year, they have the biggest majority in the House in more than 80 years. They will bring back some bills that Republicans have killed in previous years.
“I really believe that our suicide prevention bill that has died for two years in the Senate will finally have it’s chance to get through,” says Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, “giving youth an opportunity to make the choice to go seek some counsel from a school social worker or school psychologist and have that confidentiality that we need to be able to get them through the door. Ultimately it’s about the quality of life of Coloradans and I think we’ll be able to increase it significantly this year.”