The Colorado legislature adjourned May 8 after completing the work of the first session of the 69th General Assembly. Highly contentious issues and partisan wrangling characterized the session. Democrats controlled the House, the Senate and the governor’s office after a two-year period in which control of the legislature was split, as Republicans controlled the House in 2011 and 2012 by a narrow 33-32 margin.
In a departure from past practice, late-night sessions were conducted, primarily in the House, for the last three weeks of the session. Among bills that passed, but were subject to lengthy, contentious and primarily partisan debate before passage, were proposals to increase the renewable energy portfolio for rural electric associations, to allow lawsuits in state courts against small businesses accused of discrimination, to require a K-12 sex education program, to allow voters to register on Election Day, and to refer a new school finance act, with approximately $1 billion in additional revenue, to voters this November.
After high-profile shootings in Aurora and Newtown, Conn., gun control issues dominated the early part of the session. Minority Republicans offered bills, none with any chance of passing, to lessen gun restrictions. Democrats countered with a seven-bill package that included successful efforts to require background checks for private sales, to prohibit sales of magazines containing more than 15 rounds of ammunition, to require people requesting background checks to pay for them, to prohibit online courses to comply with conceal-and-carry license requirements, and to limit access to conceal-and-carry permits for people convicted of domestic abuse. Bills to prohibit conceal and carry on college campuses and to assign liability for anyone who was in the chain of control of a weapon if the weapon was used and harmed someone failed.
Two high-profile issues that failed in 2012 were 2013 priorities that passed into law. Civil unions are now legal in Colorado, and illegal aliens who complete the last three years of high school in Colorado and apply for citizenship are eligible for in-state tuition.
As some Front Range residents have become concerned about fracking and energy development in residential areas, several proposals were introduced to increase oversight of oil and gas and to increase fines. Surprisingly, only a bill to require reporting spills of one barrel or more, down from the current standard of five barrels, passed.
Implementation of the constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana dominated the session’s waning days. A restrictive regulatory environment that will require both state and local oversight of marijuana businesses was established. We’ll vote in November to decide whether to assess excise and sales taxes on marijuana to pay to administer the laws and to provide school construction funding. A law to set a standard for driving under the influence of marijuana passed as well.
For the first time since 2009, the state’s budget was passed rather quietly and without undue controversy. As the state’s coffers reflect the increased economic activity the state now enjoys, budget writers were not required to impose the same kinds of cuts to state programs that have been necessary over the past several years.
Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.