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State legislature facing tumultuous 2018 session

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By Greg Romberg

When the legislature convenes next week for its 2018 session, all indications are that we’re in for a tough, adversarial year that will be highlighted by split control, election-year posturing and the specter of several unresolved sexual harassment claims.
For the fourth year in a row, the legislature will be under split control as Republicans control the Senate by an 18-17 margin while Democrats enjoy a 37-28 advantage in the House. As has happened the last three years, expect to see both majorities pass priorities of their supporters that have no hope of passing in the other chamber.
With 2018 being an election year in which the governor and treasurer are term limited and the attorney general is running for governor, both legislators and candidates for those (and other) offices will attempt to position themselves in the most opportune positions not only on issues themselves, but how either votes or comments on those issues may be used to influence voters in the June primary and later in November’s general election. Five present legislators — two Democrats and three Republicans — are running for treasurer, and all are working hard to find ways to convert their legislative priorities, with varying success, into issues that voters will find relevant in determining who should be our next treasurer.
The Public Employees’ Retirement Association, the pension fund that covers state employees, most public educators and a variety of other public employees faces severe solvency problem and the PERA Board, Gov. Hickenlooper and Walker Stapleton, the state treasurer who is running for governor and serves as an ex-officio member of the PERA board, all have different proposed solutions. The combination of the impact on former and current employees, the resentment of public employee benefits by many taxpayers and the impact of the issue on the governor and treasurer elections ensure the issue will attract a lot of attention both inside and outside the Capitol.
There are at least four on-going sexual harassment investigations involving sitting legislators that will cast a pall over the entire session. Those investigations were highlighted last week when it became public that in at least two cases, the state paid settlements for sexual harassment claims against judges. That issue may trigger another issue as the judicial branch is subject to its own rules concerning open records instead of the Colorado Open Records Act under which all other governments in the state operate.

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie.