Money, marijuana top Colorado’s 2013 agenda
EAGLE COUNTY – Like the Republicans before them, the Democrats running this year’s Colorado Legislature say they’ll emphasize economy and education.
Freshman lawmaker Diane Mitsch Bush and incoming House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst rolled through town on a tour to outline this year’s agenda.
Like most years, money tops the list.
But unlike most years, two social issues will attract a lot of attention.
Lawmakers are required to pass a set of reefer regulations before the legislative session ends this spring, as outlined when voters approved Amendment 64.
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Democratic lawmakers also say they’ll quickly approve same-sex civil unions.
After November’s election, Democrats control Colorado’s Senate and House of Representatives, and Gov. John Hickenlooper is also a Democrat.
Bush, a Democrat from Routt County, is the newly minted representative for Colorado House District 26, Eagle and Routt counties. Bush will sit on the House transportation, energy and agriculture committees.
“We are thrilled to have her in the caucus,” said Hullinghorst, a Boulder Democrat.
Hickenlooper told the Colorado Statesman he doesn’t think the state will drift too far left.
“Folks think that with Democrats in control of both the Senate and House that under the Dome, it’s going to be too blue,” Hickenlooper said. “I don’t think so. I think on both sides there is a commitment to work together to find common ground, and to make sure that as we initiate new policies and new programs, that we get the best thinking from both sides.”
Colorado voters legalized marijuana and gave lawmakers until the end of this session to come up with regulations to handle the substance the way alcohol is currently regulated. If they fail, marijuana will be unregulated in Colorado, Hullinghorst said.
Hickenlooper put together a 24-member task force to write the legislation.
Voters can expect a legalized same-sex civil union bill on Gov. Hickenlooper’s desk early in this year’s session, Hullinghorst said. A bill died last year in the Republican-controlled House.
They also expect to quickly pass a bill giving undocumented students in-state tuition if they graduate from a Colorado high school.
“We have to make sure we don’t squander our investments in young people who graduate from our high schools, who consider themselves Coloradans in every way but, through no fault of their own, lack legal immigration status,” said Mark Ferrandino, the incoming House speaker.
Bush said Democrats will roll out a series of bills Jan. 7 and 8 that they say will be their foundation for this year’s session, which starts Jan. 9.
The state’s economy is on the rebound but could use a little help, Hullinghorst said.
They’ll try to launch small business development centers around the state, affiliated with universities and community colleges. Incentives are high on the list, as are marketing data and workforce development.
“Small business is the engine that drives the state’s economy,” Bush said.
The governor’s budget proposal includes $201.6 million in new funding for K-12 education, and $37.5 million more for higher education.
On the other hand, the state’s budget analysts predict $142.7 million in new money for fiscal year 2013-14.
Hullinghorst said that during the recession, Colorado fell behind by $1 billion in funding for public education.
If increased funding survives the legislative session, Colorado’s 178 school districts will get to decide what to do with their share.
“I’m not at all afraid to put additional resources in the hands of local school districts,” Hullinghorst said.
Hickenlooper wants to expand Colorado’s Medicaid coverage. He announced Thursday that if you’re an adult earning 33 percent more than the poverty level, you’ll be eligible for Medicaid in 2014. That’ll be 160,000 new people into the state’s Medicaid program. He says he’ll pay for it with $280 million in cost savings. The feds will pick up half the Medicaid tab, Hullinghorst said.
Bush suggested defining the issue so everyone knows what’s being discussed.
“Some people think that any sort of gun control means taking away their guns. There are so many gun issues. Let’s get it on the table so everyone knows what’s being talked about,” Bush said.
Hullinghorst said she agrees with the president and the governor that some firearms may need more regulation. She said regulations would stop short of hunting.
“No one wants to interfere with sportsmen. It’s a huge industry in Colorado,” Hullinghorst said.