Colorado Capitol Coverage

Despite some setbacks, Colorado lawmakers are praising the now completed 2017 legislative session. Lawmakers avoided major funding cuts to hospitals and took a step toward jump-starting condominium developments. But they failed to send a measure to voters that sought to raise the state’s sales tax to fund road infrastructure repair.

Bente Birkeland spoke with Democratic Speaker of the House Chrisanta Duran about some of the major pieces of legislation that passed through the Democratic House and Republican Senate.

Colorado’s annual 120 day legislative ended May 10. Lawmakers passed several bipartisan proposals to restore proposed cuts to hospitals, put more money into roads and schools. But many bills addressing key issues also failed.

Bente Birkeland talked with Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal and Brian Eason with the Denver Post about some of the highs and lows of the 2017 session.

Colorado lawmakers waited until Wednesday, the final day of their annual session, to vote on what many people felt was their most significant bill: one addressing transportation. Democratic and Republican leaders wanted a deal. So did Gov. John Hickenlooper. And it took lawmakers until the last minute to hammer out a deal on transportation.

Nobody seemed to get everything they wanted, but Senate Bill 267 passed the house with a vote of 49 to 16 vote and is on its way to Hickenlooper for a signature. It adds about $2 billion for roads, but those who hoped to see  money go to mayors to address local problems, or to transit, were disappointed.

Colorado’s annual legislative session ends Wednesday, May 10. Several hundred bills have already passed this year. But some major items still remain. Bente Birkeland talked to statehouse reporters Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal and Nic Garcia at Chalkbeat Colorado about what’s left to do.

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.

Bente Birkeland talked to statehouse reporters Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal and Peter Marcus with ColoradoPolitics.com about the tragedy and what it could mean for future oil and gas legislation.

Earlier this month, Fort Collins Coloradoan reporter Nick Coltrain won the First Amendment Award at the Society for Professional Journalists’ Top of the Rockies for a battle with Colorado State University. He wanted to know if there were inequities in pay between men and women -- and discovered there were, but only after a lot of work. The school provided him with a printout of all the information -- 150 pages of an Excel spreadsheet --  rather than the files themselves.

Colorado’s legislative session is starting to wind down, but two of the major policy goals are unraveling.

Getting more money for transportation infrastructure projects and transit is one of them. A bill that would send a sales tax increase to voters cleared the Democratic House and its first Senate committee. But Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham now says he doesn’t have enough Republican Party support for the measure to pass the Finance committee.

Tempers are flaring in the final weeks of Colorado's legislative session and some of the top priorities for lawmakers are in serious jeopardy of failing.

Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, brought reporters into his office for a hastily called news conference Thursday, April 20, to explain why his bipartisan bill that would ask voters for billions of dollars for transportation projects could soon be dead.

With just weeks left in the legislative session, bills are moving through the statehouse at rapid speed. Topics that have recently generated a lot of interest are teen sexting and oil and gas legislation.

Colorado currently has one of the strictest teen sexting laws in the country. If convicted of sending sexual images with a cellphone, youth between the ages of 14 and 18 could face felony child pornography charges and be ordered to register as a sex offender.

Colorado’s $28.6 billion budget is nearing the end of its legislative journey.

Each year, the six-member, bipartisan Joint Budget Committee crafts a balanced budget before sending it to the House and Senate for amendments. The JBC then has to reconcile those changes.

But in most cases, they go back to the original budget they spend months writing.

This year, the the House and Senate have added about 30 amendments to the so-called “long bill”.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is term limited and the race to succeed him in 2018 is already underway. Some big names have recently announced their campaigns and much earlier than usual. The moves could impact one of the biggest agenda items still facing lawmakers during this year’s legislative session – transportation funding.

Ed Sealover, a reporter for The Denver Business Journal, and Peter Marcus with ColoradoPolitics.com, spoke to Bente Birkeland about the race.

Neighborly disputes are nothing new. There’s the dog next door that poops on your lawn. The house that throws loud backyard parties. The guy down the block who always plows through the stop sign.

But in Colorado, the introduction of legal, home-grown marijuana has elevated tension among neighbors to a whole new level.

Because of gaps in the state constitutional amendments that legalized cultivation of the drug for recreational and medical purposes -- and in the ensuing rules that sought to regulate it further -- some rural pockets in Colorado are seeing large-scale cooperative marijuana grow operations sprout up with little oversight.

The $28.6 billion state budget is making its way through the legislature. It covers everything from roads and health care to schools and prisons. Despite many lawmakers wanting significant changes, it overwhelmingly cleared the Senate.

Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland discussed the politics behind the budget with reporters John Frank with The Denver Post and Nic Garcia with ChalkBeat.

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.

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.

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 with the Associated Press and Luke Perkins with the Durango Herald to discuss the details.

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.

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. Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman (D-Denver)  was behind the effort. She knew the odds were against her, but even before the hearing, she said she wanted to raise awareness to the moral and social issues surrounding the death penalty.

“There are a lot of people willing and wanting to learn more and more about the problems with it, the challenges of it, and we need to keep that message going,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll lose the battle, because the battle is long-term.”

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.

Here are highlights from our discussion with John Frank, a reporter for The Denver Post and Ed Sealover, a reporter for The Denver Business Journal. They discussed Senate Bill 3, which seeks to repeal Connect for Health Colorado.

Colorado officials have highlighted seven shovel-ready road and water projects should the Trump administration secure roughly $1 trillion in infrastructure funding. The National Governor’s Association sent that list, along with projects from 48 other states and territories, to the Trump administration on Feb. 8.

Colorado’s list includes adding two urgent projects -- an express lane heading west into the mountains on I-70 and adding capacity lanes along the northern and southern parts of I-25. It also includes water projects and one to expand rural broadband.

Law enforcement officers in Colorado would be required to be U.S. citizens under a new measure that cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 6.

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.   

Capitol Conversation

Feb 3, 2017

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.

We talked about the issue with Peter Marcus with ColoradoPolitics.com and Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal.

More Gun Training in Schools Advances

Jan 28, 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.

Religious Freedom Bill Fails For Third Straight Year

Jan 28, 2017

After a lengthy hearing dominated by religious groups, churches and members of the LGBT community, a proposal that would create a religious freedom exemption bill in Colorado was defeated.

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.

Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal and Peter Marcus with ColoradoPolitics.com weighed in on some of the major issues lawmakers will debate.

The Governor delivered his 2017 address Thursday, touching on health care, transportation and marijuana.

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.

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.

Gov. John Hickenlooper is entering his second to last legislative session as governor. He said he’s very aware of his time in office being limited, and that colored his discussion of his goals for the upcoming legislative session.

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