Colorado legislature

For only the second time during his tenure as governor, John Hickenlooper is calling lawmakers back to the Capitol outside of their regular session. He wants them to fix an error that is keeping thousands of dollars from getting to the Denver Zoo and regional transportation districts.

But a special session may not lead to a simple fix.

Colorado is a resilient state. The unemployment rate is among the lowest in the nation and the population along the Front Range is booming. It’s easy to see the impact of a strong economy in Denver. Construction cranes are up all over the city and it’s harder than ever to find affordable housing.

But it’s a different story in many parts of western Colorado.

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Colorado energy regulators are trying to quell the public's fears after a house built near an oil and gas well exploded, killing two men. The explosion happened in the small community of Firestone, thirty miles north of Denver, where oil and gas wells are common.  State officials are still investigating the explosion and don't know what caused it.

Wednesday was a long day at the State Capitol. Eighty people signed up to testify on a massive transportation funding bill that if passed, would ultimately end up before voters in the fall.

During a more than seven-hour hearing before the House Transportation and Energy Committee people expressed lots of thoughts on how to improve Colorado’s roads -- and how to pay for them. Lawmakers also offered several dozen changes to House Bill 1242 but, in the end, the measure passed along party lines.

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Colorado's latest revenue forecast shows that state lawmakers will have to fill a larger budget gap than anticipated -- a $696 million gap. Bente Birkeland spoke with other statehouse reporters about what this could mean for the state budget.

Lawmakers are midway through this year’s legislative session and the big issue at the halfway mark is what to do about funding transportation. Democratic and Republican leaders are backing the idea of asking voters this fall if they support a tax increase to address those needs. The issue is poised to dominate the second half of the session.

“If there is going to be a long-term solution to transportation infrastructure it’s going to almost certainly require something that the voters are going to weigh in on,” said Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Republican. He made that comment late last year, prior to the January start of the session, and has kept the promise, backing House Bill 1142, which would add millions of dollars for transportation needs.

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Legislative leaders have coalesced around a bill that, if approved, would ask Colorado voters to approve a sales tax increase to fund road, bridge and transit projects. The bipartisan transportation bill is dividing the GOP, with opponents saying Colorado hasn't done enough to tighten its budget and find efficiencies.

David Zalubowski / Associated Press

As Colorado's legislative session reaches the halfway point, lawmakers have introduced more than 400 bills. Many bills cover controversial topics and are short-lived, though the debates and hearings can last hours. So why do lawmakers spend so much time on legislation that never sees the light of day?

For some, it's intended to send a message. Others are aiming for long-term goals.

COURTESY OF SENATE PRESIDENT KEVIN GRANTHAM

A top Republican joined with Democratic leaders at the Colorado legislature Wednesday evening in an effort to find solutions to ongoing transportation woes.

To do that, lawmakers are proposing a bipartisan bill, HB1142, that would send the question to voters, asking for a 0.62-cent sales tax increase. That money would go towards priority infrastructure projects, as well as to provide funding to local governments for transit, roads, trails, and potholes.

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State lawmakers are leading an effort to change how the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) is calculated. The goal: Let Colorado keep more of the tax money it collects.  Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland talked to John Frank with The Denver Post and Charles Ashby with The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel about how the measure could free up millions of dollars for transportation, education and health care, and why it faces an uphill battle. 

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

Advocates say Senate Bill 40 does something simple: It brings the Colorado Open Records Act into the 21st century by requiring state agencies to provide information in a digital format , such as a database or a spreadsheet, where feasible.

"These are the people's records. We are the custodians, we are the stewards of these records," said Democratic Sen. John Kefalas of Fort Collins. He's the main sponsor of the bill.

For some, the issue is more complicated.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

"If you put an entire community in danger, that shouldn't be a felony?" asked  Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling during a packed committee hearing on Feb. 16.

The topic of debate was Senate Bill 35, a measure that would increase the penalty for tampering with oil and equipment and attempting to interrupt operations.  Since it was first introduced, SB 35 has generated a lot of public interest. It has consistently been one of the "most accessed bills" on the state's legislative website.

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Recreational marijuana clubs, also called social lounges, are allowed in some Colorado communities, but state law is murky on whether or not their existence is legal and how they should be regulated. Two proposals currently moving through the legislature aim to add clarity by requiring either voters or local governments to approve the clubs.

Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland sat down with Kristen Wyatt of the Associated Press and Luke Perkins of the Durango Herald to discuss the details.

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Colorado is roughly a third of the way through the four-month long legislative session. John Frank, a reporter for The Denver Post, and Peter Marcus with ColoradoPolitics.com sat down with statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland to take stock of the big issues this session.

COLORADO SENATE REPUBLICANS

A Colorado newspaper is fighting claims that it peddles fake news stories. The publisher of Grand Junction's Daily Sentinel is accusing a state lawmaker of defamation and threatening a lawsuit. If filed, legal experts said it would be the first of its kind, potentially setting a legal definition for what is considered fake news and what is not.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

In the last decade, Democrats have attempted to repeal Colorado's death penalty four times. Their latest attempt on Feb. 15 was amid contentious debate.

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A proposal to repeal Colorado's healthcare exchange and move to the federal program has prompted a lot of debate at the State Capitol. It has also set off a larger fight about the future of the Affordable Care Act.

President Trump’s battle with the media doesn’t show any signs of letting up. But, in Colorado, Republicans hope divisive rhetoric doesn’t impede their ability to get their message out. They’ve come up with something very un-Trump -- a model they say will improve their relationship with the media. 

“We really want to be more open and inclusive,” said Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert. He has started doing something old school -- something the president had been criticized for not doing enough of. He and the Senate president are holding weekly briefings with the press. That’s also something his predecessor in Colorado didn’t do. And the Senate GOP plans to hold its first ever off-the-record happy hour with reporters.   

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

In the midst of an ongoing national fight about the future of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, a measure to replace Colorado's health care exchange is igniting passion in Denver. On Feb. 7, people rallied outside the state capitol to protest repealing the Affordable Care Act, while in the capitol, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 3, known as the 'Repeal Colorado Health Benefit Exchange Bill.'

John Suthers State of the City 2016 / Colorado Springs

Among balancing the budget and finding money for transportation projects, lawmakers will decide if creating a passenger rail line along Colorado's Front Range—from southern Colorado to Fort Collins—is worth a look.   

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Lawmakers in both parties are trying to make it more difficult for homeowners to sue condo developers over construction defects. They hope it will lead to more condo development and lower rents. But despite widespread support for the concept, legislation hasn't been able to pass in previous years.

For this week's Capitol Conversation, we talked about the issue with Peter Marcus with ColoradoPolitics.com and Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal.

Debate among Colorado lawmakers got heated on Tuesday during consideration of a symbolic measure to denounce President Trump’s executive order temporarily barring refugees entry into the United States.

The measure, considered in the Democrat-controlled House, ultimately passed by a voice vote. Some Republicans said privately that they felt stung by statements made ahead of the vote by Rep. Joe Salazar, a Democrat from Thornton. Salazar chided Republicans for not backing the measure – House Joint Resolution 1013 – accusing them of supporting civil rights when it is politically expedient. 

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It is unclear how the Trump administration's freezing of grants and awards from the Environmental Protection Agency will impact programs in Colorado.

We talked with Peter Marcus with ColoradoPolitics.com and Luke Perkins from the Durango Herald about how politicians are reacting—and working together—in the face of potential funding losses.

Steve Wilson / Flickr - Creative Commons

This post has been updated, first on Sat 1/28/17 to expand the story.  Last updated Thursday 2/2/17 to reflect that the bill has been introduced at the statehouse.
 

The state's Southwest Chief Commission, which has been working since 2014 to find ways to preserve and expand a long-distance Amtrak route that runs through southern Colorado, is setting its sights on passenger rail along the Interstate 25 corridor and Colorado's Front Range. 

More Gun Training in Schools Advances

Jan 26, 2017

A measure that would encourage schools to offer  additional training for security guards, and pave the way for more teachers to have guns in schools cleared its first committee on Jan. 24.

During the opening days of the 2017 Colorado legislative session, lawmakers and the governor outlined their priorities for the good of the people in the centennial state. But are elected officials in line with your priorities and concerns?  We asked Coloradans from across the state to weigh in.

Coloradans hope politicians work together

Lawmakers have introduced the first set of bills of the legislative session-over 200 so far. As part of our capitol conversation series, Kristen Wyatt with the Associated Press and Joey Bunch with ColoradoPolitics.com talk about what proposals stood out to them.

KIRK SIEGLER / KUNC

The first few days of Colorado's 2017 legislative session provided glimpses into the next few months as legislative leaders and the governor outlined their plans and priorities.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

Gov. John Hickenlooper delivered one of his last State of the State addresses to the Colorado legislature on Jan. 12. He didn't delve into specifics, but instead talked broadly about policy, including infrastructure investment and potential health care reform.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

Opening day at Colorado's Capitol may be largely procedural, but legislative leaders take the opportunity to set the tone for the year. Thirty-two of the state's 100 lawmakers are newly elected, but the makeup of the chambers is largely the same as it was last year. Republicans still control the Senate and Democrats have a majority in the House.

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