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Romberg: A spirited legislative session

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By Greg Romberg

The Colorado General Assembly adjourned May 3 after a session that was controversial and combative and that resulted in both successes and disappointments for Democrats who used their newfound control of both the House and Senate to pursue an aggressive agenda.

While bills to further regulate oil and gas development, remove guns from people with mental health issues, standardize sex education, establish a mechanism for popular vote of the president, address climate change and allow voters the opportunity to forgo TABOR refunds all found their way to the governor’s desk, proposals to abolish the death penalty, mandate all employers and their employees participate in a state-run family leave program, tighten exemptions for childhood immunizations and increase tobacco taxes all failed.

Several high-profile issues, including state funding for full-day kindergarten, additional transportation funding, access to and cost reduction for health care, criminal justice reform and referring to voters the ability for Colorado’s casinos to offer sports betting in their establishments and over the internet, passed the legislature with broad, bipartisan support.

When Republican legislators believed Democrats were too high handed with how they used their power to pursue priority issues, they used legislative rules to delay the process. The most dramatic example occurred when Republican senators demanded that a non-controversial 2,023-page bill to reorganize laws concerning occupational regulation be read at length. When Democrats honored the request by having six computers read different parts of the bill at speeds so fast that no one could understand anything that was being read (and that still took over six hours), Republicans successfully sued the president of the Senate when a Denver District Court Judge ruled that the requirement for bills to be read at length included the requirement that such reading be understood.

An agreement to add transportation funding while the state budget was being considered in the Senate led to a temporary return to normalcy. But work slowed to a crawl again when Republican senators used a series of delaying tactics the last two weeks of the session to slow the process, force negotiation on their highest priorities and require Democrats to adjust calendars to prioritize agenda items. While similar tactics were utilized by House Republicans, it was more evident (and more successful) in the Senate.

The main lessons of the session are three-fold. First, elections have consequences and Colorado’s blue wave in 2018 led to significant changes in Colorado law and public policy. Second, our founders’ wisdom in creating incremental processes for change that provide tools to the minority to slow change and protect against real or perceived abuse of power continue to work. And third, that people who believed that all Democrats would agree on all of the same priorities were being simplistic and naïve.

 

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie.