The Colorado General Assembly’s 120-day session launches Jan. 4 as emboldened Democrats prepare to take complete control of state government.
Voters in November handed the party the majority in both chambers and elected Democrats to every statewide office on the ballot.
Democratic lawmakers have promised they’ll pursue an ambitious agenda on everything from health care and climate change to affordable housing and education funding. And they’ll have an ally in Jared Polis, the incoming Democratic governor, who campaigned on his own self-described “bold” plans.
Meanwhile, Republicans, who held a one-seat majority in the Senate for the previous four years, are cautioning Democrats against “overreach,” while privately hoping their political foes go too far, since the Democrats lost the Senate in 2014 after pushing progressive policies while they controlled the legislature and governor’s office.
But the byword among Democrats lately has been “resurrection,” as liberals lick their chops at the chance to pass legislation that ran aground in recent years in the Republican Senate.
Democratic lawmakers are hopeful they’ll be able to pass longstanding proposals to establish paid family and medical leave for workers and ban conversion therapy aimed at changing the sexual orientation of LGBTQ youth.
Likewise, a so-called “red flag” bill was thwarted last year by some Senate Republicans but is guaranteed to return this session. It would allow judges to order the temporary seizure of firearms from people deemed at risk to themselves or others.
It’s been decades since either party in swing-state Colorado has held as lopsided a majority as House Democrats will enjoy when their 41 members are seated in January, just three seats shy of a super-majority. (Republicans counted 41 members in the 65-seat House after the 1994 and 1996 elections, but Democrats have to look back all the way to the aftermath of the 1964 LBJ landslide to find that many House members in their corner.)
Democrats will hold 19 of the 35 seats in the Senate after defeating two incumbents on their way to winning all five of the most-contested races in the chamber in November.
Both parties say it’ll be a priority to figure out how to pay for billions of dollars in backlogged transportation needs. Legislators are also set to decide how to spend roughly $1 billion in unanticipated additional revenue for the fiscal year, with both K-12 and higher education advocates arguing for a share.
Looming over everything, however, is the possibility Colorado’s booming economy could hit a rough patch — the country is long overdue for a downturn if not a full-blown recession, economists say. That increases pressure on the General Assembly to add money to the state's rainy-day fund.
Outgoing Gov. John Hickenlooper sought to bolster the reserve fund, but budget experts suggest there’s still room to grow the fund.