During the second session of Colorado's 72nd General Assembly, Senate and Republican leaders spelled out their visions, including an economy that serves more Coloradans, clean energy jobs, better education and job training, plus common ground in government.
That's the choice of the Senate majority, Democrats. Republicans will prioritize enabling local school districts to offer parents and students options to reduce the cost of higher education.
Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, a Republican from Parker, said students shouldn't be denied cannabis-based medicines in schools, and nodded to his support for 2016's Jack's Law, named for the late Jack Splitt, to make his seizure medicines available at school.
Holbert noted that Republicans and Democrats passed the law on a unanimous vote.
Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Democrat from Pueblo, urged lawmakers to avoid political in-fighting this session "no matter what or who or what seeks to divide us."
He spoke of the need for agreement to curb high health costs and faces the challenges of the climate change, harnessing the economic potential of solar and wind energy jobs, and breaking the cycles of poverty.
Garcia vowed that the purveyors of gridlock would find no harbor in the Senate.
"Sitting on the sidelines, and using hate and fear to undermine honest effort is an unacceptable standard," Garcia said.
Garcia and Holbert acknowledged this week's resignation of state Sen. Lois Court for health reasons. Court was first elected to the House in 2008 and the Senate in 2016. Her resignation is effective Jan. 16 and the vacancy will be filled by a committee. Court was not present Wednesday.
"Sen. Court, thank you for your sense of humor, your tenacity and your extensive institutional memory," Holbert said. "My family and I will continue to pray for your healing and full recovery. God Bless you, friend."
State Rep. Chris Hansen, who had previously announced plans to run for the Senate seat this year, is vying to fill the job this session, which would create a vacancy in House District 6.
Garcia told Holbert in his speech that he looked forward to working with him "on behalf of all Coloradans — who need us to put partisanship aside, in pursuit of common sense solutions for the issues that face Coloradans."
He called for compassion and cited "the single mother who works two jobs and can barely cover the cost of childcare," for union workers betrayed corporate greed and for the "college student whose father was diagnosed with cancer and quits school to help their family avoid bankruptcy."
"These are the experiences of the people we served," he told fellow senators, adding "Yet the truth is, compassion is not enough, they need results.
He warned that the super-rich rig the economic system in their favor, and it's the job of lawmakers to try to balance those scales.
"I believe we will follow in Colorado's rich tradition of coming together to solve this state's pressing challenges," Garcia said.
Holbert, however, called out Garcia and other Democrats for calling our Republicans last year for their efforts to slow down bills the Republicans in the minority opposed. Republicans sometimes asked that lengthy bills be read aloud, a time-consuming procedure Democrats tried to thwart last year, until the courts stepped in. Holbert said the purpose was not to delay but to create conversation where that talk was not happening before.
"Mr. President, while it is understandable that members of the majority might feel frustration toward the tenacity with which the minority approached debate last session, it was nonetheless disappointing to hear those principled efforts described as 'children throwing temper tantrums,'" Holbert said. "No, we're all adults here."
He said he counted Garcia and Democrats as friends and talked about times they had agreed and worked together.
Holbert noted that Republicans and Democrats worked together to find $300 million in the state budget for transportation last year. He said they want another $300 million this year. (The governor has asked for $600 million more, but $555 million was approved by legislative moves in 2017.)
He also cited the failure of Proposition CC on the November ballot to use future refunds from the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights for transportation and education. Those should be priorities with the tax dollars lawmakers already have.
"That outcome demonstrates, once again, that the voters expect better return from government for their money," Holbert said.
He said Republicans will introduce a package of education bills, including "school choice and innovation, taxpayer accountability and transparency, ways to better support great teachers, and ways to address the safety of students, teachers, and staff within our public schools" by working with school districts.
"Republicans share the desire to pay teachers more, especially those teachers who excel at teaching," Holbert said in his speech. "Putting more toward buying down of the budget stabilization factor would allow local school districts to increase teacher salaries within their respective jurisdictions. We didn’t tell those local school boards how to cut their budgets during the Great Recession and we ought to avoid telling them how to increase their budgets during a booming economy."
Holbert hopes the Legislature will approve steps to promote concurrent college enrollment, so high school students can get a low-cost jump on higher education.
He welcomed to the chamber his son, Carson, who will be a junior at Colorado State University when he finishes high school with an associate's degree.
"For Carson, that path made sense," Holbert said.
In a joint statement, a handful of Colorado chambers of commerce said they were thrilled to hear Holbert's pitch for more transportation dollars.
"Fix Colorado Roads’ partners are eager to join with them to fix Colorado’s rapidly growing statewide transportation crisis by securing a thoughtful, modern and equitable package approach to addressing our transportation challenges today and into the future," the the organization's spokeswoman, Sandra Hagen Solin. "A package that considers new and equitable funding sources, continuing general fund funding and moving forward with bonding.
"The need throughout the state — north, south, east and west — is great, and leaders from across the state are calling for a solution this legislative session.”
Sen. Larry Crowder, a Republican from Alamosa, recounted his recent meeting with Democratic Gov. Jared Polis.
"What the governor and I discussed was a situation of hope for this state, a hope that in this body we can make the state better, and I think he was . very open to that," he said. "It was a very good meeting, and we indicated we were ready for business."
Sens. Nancy Todd and Rhonda Fields, both Democrats from Aurora, were in the same meeting with the governor.
"I said to him the most important thing we need to have this year is good communications across the board — no surprises during session or at the end of session," Todd said of Polis. "He obviously talked about the importance of peace internationally and where we are and also the importance ... that we work well together this year."
As the speeches began Wednesday morning, the conservative advocacy organization Colorado Rising State Action sent out a statement about Democratic overreach, citing the last session.
“Last year, Democrats overreached on everything from oil and gas regulations to the National Popular Vote," Executive Director Michael Fields said. "I hope this session, the majority will do a better job of listening to the public and working with the other side.”