The second session of the 71st Colorado General Assembly convened Jan. 10. As always, the key numbers are: 65 representatives, 35 senators and one governor in a maximum 120-day long gathering to determine the state’s future. The Democrats control the House (37-28), the Republicans the Senate (18 to 16 with one Independent) and the Governor’s Mansion is occupied by a lame duck. It’s an election year with all the representatives’ seats up for grabs and about half of the senatorial seats as well.
Last year, all five state legislators representing northeast Denver were new: James Coleman, Leslie Herod and Chris Hansen were elected to the House for the first time while former representatives Lois Court and Angela Williams moved from the House to the Senate.
Also new last year, of course, was the person in the White House. While Trump seemed to be last year’s lightning rod, this year the Washington, D.C., gridlock appears to be turning the statehouse focus more clearly back on to itself.
Gov. Hickenlooper signaled this changed focus in his Jan. 11 State of the State address, his eighth and last due to term limits. Hickenlooper introduced us to the word “topophilia” (love of place) in a plea for bipartisan cooperation. It’s an apt descriptor especially given the word’s evocation of topography of which Colorado has plenty both physically, and in terms of legislative ups and downs.
Hickenlooper said 2017 “wasn’t always pretty … but it was the most impactful, bipartisan legislative session since the Great Recession. We reminded everyone: The collaborative Colorado way is the best way.” The governor even linked “trust in our government” to topophilia, calling it a “critical part of love of place.”
So, what issues will we Colorado topophiliacs be facing in 2018? A review of the governor’s speech and statements made by various legislators suggests several common themes: increasing funding for transportation and education, bridging the urban/rural divide with various measures including greater broadband access, dealing with the opioid crisis, putting the state’s public employees pension fund (PERA) on sound footing, addressing oil and gas well safety and location, continuing the search for health care insurance, strengthening sexual harassment policies and balancing the state budget. On that last item, a special challenge this year will be spending priorities for an anticipated windfall of several hundred million dollars resulting from the federal tax reform bill.
One perennial issue, the state’s “fiscal thicket” of competing constitutional amendments, lurks in the background but no clear solution is in sight. The situation is expected to get worse before it gets better, especially for rural areas where the Gallagher amendment will continue to lower residential assessment rates, disproportionately hurting schools and special districts.
Hickenlooper closed his speech by invoking ancient Greece where “conversations about the great disagreements of the day took place around big dinners and lasted days. Strangers were welcome. Conversation would slow down, and unlike a cable TV debate or tweet storm, it allowed a spectrum of viewpoints to emerge. People invested their time in each other.” He offered his office as a “place of convergence,” saying “We have 364 days left in this administration … That’s an eternity for compromise.”
Priorities for Individual Legislators
The Front Porch asked the northeast Denver legislators to list their top five priorities (edited for length).
Sen. Lois Court (District 31)
First, we must balance our budget as we do every year. But this year is a bit unique because this year we have some “extra” funds. We need to provide more funding for transportation, but we also have a nearly $800 million hole to fill in our K-12 funding. We need to see what more we can do for affordable housing, health care, the opioid crisis, and so many other issues. Second, I am working with fellow Democrats, as well as Republicans, to put the state employees pension fund, known as PERA, on a more sound financial footing. Third, I am again tackling public safety with my bill to require hands-free cell phone use. Holding a cell phone while driving is absolutely dangerous. Fourth, I am working on a bill to help more non-profits become available on your income tax form so you can give to a much wider range of organizations when you allocate funds from your income tax refund on your return. Fifth, as the Caucus Chair for the Senate Democrats, one of my major responsibilities is to work with all of our Senate Democrats to be sure that they are successful in serving their own constituents. To that end, I’ll do everything I can as I continue to serve on both the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee to help my fellow Democrats with the bills they’re bringing to those committees.
Sen. Angela Williams (District 33)
Constituents of SD 33 agree transportation, broadband access, the opioid crisis, housing and educational funding are priorities for our district. My specific priorities include: Residential Lease Copy and Rent Receipt—A bill to require a residential landlord to provide each tenant with a copy of a written rental agreement signed by the parties and to give a tenant a receipt for any payment made in person with cash or a money order; Right to Cure—This bill seeks to extend the time a landlord gives a tenant to cure a violation of unpaid rent; Elements of Hazing—This bill expands the definition of hazing by including emotional and psychological, as well as physical harm. It also extends the crime of hazing to actions involving adult organization and those actions that occur on public or private property; Use of Cyber Coding Cryptology for State Records—This bill requires designated state officials to take certain actions to protect state records containing trusted sensitive and confidential information from criminal, unauthorized, or inadvertent manipulation or theft; Alternative Vehicle Fuels—This bill allows a utility to build facilities to support alternative fuel vehicles. I will continue to serve on the Business, Labor & Technology Committee.
Rep. Chris Hansen (District 6)
First, I am committed to passing legislation to increase investment in energy storage, which will allow us to take full advantage of rapidly increasing renewable energy capacity on our grid, making electricity cheaper and more reliable. Second, I will be working on a House Select Committee to develop a strategic plan to meet the greenhouse gas reduction targets set by Gov. Hickenlooper this past year. Our goal is to demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean transportation and spurring a transition to a clean energy economy. Third, I am committed to raising the minimum age of marriage in Colorado, which currently has no floor in statute. By raising the age, we will be preventing minors from sometimes being forced into wedlock before they can assume the responsibilities of marriage or advocating for their own best interest. Fourth, Rep. Leslie Herod and I are working to pass legislation to protect consumers by defining and requiring open internet access when state funds are used to provide service in Colorado. Fifth, increasing compensation for legislative aides is a priority. Aides work tirelessly to help state legislators to do our job well. However, their hourly pay rate, near the minimum wage, is not sufficient and they are only allowed to work for approximately 800 hours per year. I propose an annual salary for aides, which will attract more talent to the state legislature, providing more consistent, quality support to legislators so we can better serve the people of Colorado.
Rep. James Coleman (District 7)
- The Colorado Childcare Contribution Tax Credit Renewal—A taxpayer who makes a monetary contribution to promote childcare in the state of Colorado is allowed an income tax credit that is equal to 50% of the total value of the contribution. This exemption is currently available until Jan. 1, 2020. The bill extends the credit for five years;
- Creating a teacher program to decrease the teacher shortage;
- Prohibiting Previous Salary Questions in Recruitment and Hiring Practices—Will help decrease the wage gap between men and women and racial disparities in income by prohibiting questions about previous salary;
- Increasing Law Enforcement Transparency—This bill allows for the public to request investigation records of enforcement officials after an investigation has been executed and completed. The release of this information will be done in a manner that protects the sensitive personal information of those involved; 5. Updating Urban Drainage District Election Procedures—This bill seeks to modernize the election procedures of the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District that have not changed since 1992, bringing them into conformity with current requirements of state law.
Rep. Leslie Herod (District 8)
My work on the Judiciary Committee will focus on the drivers of mass incarceration and dismantling the prison industrial complex. Additionally, I will work to support Speaker Crisanta Duran’s bill to reauthorize the Colorado Civil Rights Division. On the Finance Committee I will work to ensure that hard-working families and individuals benefit from our state’s fiscal policy. That means ensuring that we pass the childcare contribution tax credit and that we protect PERA. Mental health and substance abuse continues to be a pressing issue in Colorado and the need for services continues to increase. I am very alarmed and concerned about Colorado’s opioid crisis, and I plan to work with my colleagues to pass laws that will keep overdose deaths down and increase access to treatment and recovery. Additionally, I have introduced the Children’s Mental Health Act. This bill will expand mental health treatment services for our children and youth. Finally, I will work to ensure that the internet remains free and open to all. That is why I am working with Rep. Chris Hansen to pass Net Neutrality in Colorado.