Colorado Legislature Convenes

In this Nov. 27 photo, clouds build over the state Capitol in downtown Denver. Colorado lawmakers convene their 2019 session with Democrats in control of both chambers and Democrat Jared Polis set to take control of the governor's office on Jan. 9.

More than 100 bills were introduced on Friday, the opening day of the 2019 Colorado General Assembly session. Some of the first 10 in each chamber begin to tell the tale of Democrats' priorities — and which Republicans are likely to join in on those discussions.

If there's one area where bipartisanship seems most likely, it's education.

Among the first 10 bills in both the House and Senate are a group of education-themed bills supported by many of the same lawmakers: Democratic Sen. Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada, Democratic Rep. Barbara McLachlan of Durango and Republican Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida.

House Bill 1002 would create a school leadership pilot program to provide professional development for public elementary, middle and high school principals.

Senate Bill 3 would make changes to the criteria for the teacher loan forgiveness program, and in addition to McLachlan, Zenzinger and Wilson has Republican Sen. Don Coram of Montrose as a co-prime sponsor. 

Wilson and Todd are part of a bipartisan quartet sponsoring HB 1005, which would provide an income tax credit to early childhood educators under certain conditions. They're joined by Speaker Pro Tem Janet Buckner of Aurora and Republican Sen. Kevin Priola of Henderson.

Wilson, Todd, McLachlan and Coram are also the sponsors of Senate Bill 9, which would increase stipends for student teachers who agree to teach in rural schools from $2,800 to $4,000. The bill also would remove the limit on the number of stipends awarded by the Department of Higher Education, currently set at 60. 

Another group of bipartisan lawmakers are teaming up on a proposal for grants for career and technical education capital construction, using money from the Building Excellent Schools Today fund. HB 1008 is sponsored by Democratic Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp of Arvada, Republican Rep. Colin Larson of Littleton, Democratic Sen. Nancy Todd of Aurora and Republican Sen. Paul Lundeen of Monument. 

One of the most-watched bills of the session -- one not involving education -- could be HB 1004, which would require the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing and the Division of Insurance to come up with a proposal on a state option for health care coverage. The measure is sponsored by Democratic Rep. Dylan Roberts of Avon, Republican Rep. Marc Catlin of Montrose and Democratic Sen. Kerry Donovan of Vail. 

Among other bills of interest introduced in the session's first hours:

  • SB 42, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Mike Foote of Lafayette and Democratic Reps. Emily Sirota of Denver and Jeni Arndt of Fort Collins. The bill would make Colorado part of a national effort to eliminate the Electoral College and require the president of the United States to be elected by national popular vote.
  • SB 39, sponsored by Zenzinger, Democratic Sen. Tammy Story of Conifer and Democratic Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet of Commerce City. The measure would strip out language inserted by Senate Republicans in the 2018 session into HB 1306, which intended to help any foster child remain in one school district instead of being shuffled from one school district to another. Republicans inserted language requiring school districts to pay for transportation for any pupil to attend any public school of their choice, and for the home district to pay those transportation costs. In December, a Denver judge ruled the bill's title  Improving Educational Stability for Foster Youth  would not allow the language of the Republican amendment. 
  • SB 34 would allow local governments to require fast-food restaurants to use food containers that can be recycled or composted. The measure, sponsored by Moreno and Arndt, would overturn a state law that prohibits local governments from enacting those kinds of rules.
  • SB 28 would fix a problem that surfaced in the waning days of the 2018 session over who can hold retail and premise licenses to sell beer. The law made it clear that a store would have to choose one or the other, but that's causing problems for some rural businesses (background here). The measure is sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker and Republican Rep. Hugh McKean of Loveland.
  • A bill by Republican Sen. Jim Smallwood of Parker, SB 25, would instruct public school students on the laws regarding the safe abandonment of newborn children. The bill requires that instruction to be included as part of human sexuality education, and it's been assigned to the Senate's State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
  • Another bill on human sexuality education has surfaced in the House. HB 1032, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Susan Lontine of Denver, Todd and Coram, clarifies the requirements for human sexuality education, which have been in law since 2013. The bill would prohibit the teaching or endorsing of religious ideology, "sectarian tenets or doctrines, using shame-based or stigmatizing language ... employing gender norms or stereotypes, or excluding the relational or sexual experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender individuals." Lontine told Colorado Politics that the problem is surfacing in district-run public schools.

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