Even before she took the oath of office, state Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, readily answered to the title of Speaker of the House.
As roll call was taken Wednesday, Jan. 11, the first day of the 71st General Assembly, the clerk asked if the speaker was present and both state Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Gunbarrel — who wrapped up her term as speaker — and Duran answered “here.” Duran then laughed lightly from her seat with family members on the House floor.
Unanimously elected speaker by the 65-member House, Duran is the first female Latino speaker in Colorado history. She follows Ruben Valdez, the first Latino speaker. Valdez was present, along with another Democratic past speaker, Mark Ferrandino, and Republican past speakers Frank McNulty and Doug Dean. At 36, Duran is also the youngest speaker in state history.
After Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nancy Rice administered the oath of office to Duran, Hullinghorst formally handed her the gavel.
“I know you’ll use this to bring order and peace, fairness and justice, and will earn the trust of the people of Colorado,” Hullinghorst told Duran.
Duran quickly moved to oversee several procedural resolutions establishing the rules for the upcoming legislative session, declaring “the House is ready to work.”
In her speech to the House members, which includes 19 new members chosen in the November election and gave the Democrats a 37-28 edge over Republicans, Duran also announced a bipartisan compromise on construction defects reform, a perennial sticking point in the Legislature.
Duran said that she and the new Senate president, Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, had agreed to be prime sponsors of a bill intended to tackle the issue of insurance, identified by stakeholders as impacting new starts on affordable condominium projects in the state.
“I hardly had time to practice this speech because we were working on some of the last-minute details in this bill,” Duran added.
The bill, with the co-prime sponsorship of state Rep. Cole Wist, R-Centennial, and state Sen. Angela Williams, D-Denver, was formally introduced Wednesday afternoon.
“By targeting insurance rates we’re addressing the problem without reducing consumers’ right to protect the property that they spent their life’s savings to buy,” said Duran in a news release announcing the bill.
The bill will allow insurers to go to court to apportion defense costs equitably among liability insurers who are required to defend a defect claim through an expedited process. The legislation seeks to address one of the root causes that makes it harder to build more condos, without compromising consumer rights.
In his speech to the House, Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, said while homeowners should “absolutely have recourse to remedy poor construction,” the state “should not let a dysfunctional system that only benefits lawyers continue to prevent people from attaining a home of their own.”
Republicans will push for policies to get help builders begin constructing attainable housing. He said excessive litigation was the primary cause of the lack of such housing, and if it is not addressed, Colorado’s housing crisis will get worse.
“We have strong bipartisan support for this legislation, and people are counting on us to solve this problem,” he said. “Let’s make this the year we pass comprehensive construction litigation reform.”
In a statement, Jonathan Harris, Build Our Homes Right president, said the group — a coalition of homeowners and legal advocates working to protect homeowners rights and oppose efforts to weaken those rights — supports the Duran and Grantham measure.
“It solves the problem developers have identified as the number one barrier to building affordable housing by bringing down the cost of construction insurance, while protecting the rights of homeowners,” Harrison said. “It’s a win-win all the way around.”
In other highlights of her opening day speech, Duran said she was involved in “promising discussions” with members of both parties in both chambers to devise a comprehensive statewide plan to upgrade Colorado’s crumbling, overburdened transportation system.
“We need a plan that focuses not just on moving cars down the road, but on moving people,” Duran said. “We need to accommodate our state’s increasing productivity and population, which is growing by 250 people per day. Anyone who’s been on I-25 at rush hour, anywhere from Fort Collins to Pueblo, knows the need is real.”
Duran also noted discussions continue about education funding and a long-term solution to the state’s chronic budget problems.
She closed with an appeal for “an inclusive Colorado” where bullying of people because of their gender, race, religion, nationality or sexual orientation is off-limits.
State Rep. Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo, said in a statement that while she was proud Duran became the state’s first female Latina speaker — “A glass ceiling in Colorado has been broken, and that’s a great thing.” Navarro added, “we have very different philosophies on the role of government. [Duran’s] remarks were heartfelt, but I’m simply not a big government advocate, and I heard a lot of big government support and ideas today. I wish her the best, and I’m proud of her, but I’m also fairly certain our votes won’t be the same.”
Navarro said the Legislature can improve the state’s quality of life with prioritization, without growing government and by exercising political courage.
Neville touts less government stance for GOP
Likewise, Neville noted in his speech to the House that “Government serves very important roles, but it is inherently intrusive and consumptive.”
“Every law, rule and regulation requires tax dollars to implement, enforce, and document,” he said. “While well-intentioned, every program we create in this building requires more tax dollars.”
Noting this year’s state budget will exceed $28 billion — potentially more than a billion dollars over last year’s budget — Neville said deep cuts are supposedly needed to balance the spending plan.
“How can we make deep cuts when we have $1 billion more than last year?” he asked. “Members, we do not have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.”
Still, Neville said the Legislature can prioritize that revenue for transportation without asking taxpayers for more money in an election.
“We have discussed bonding for new transportation projects in the past and members on both sides of the aisle have supported that proposal,” Neville stated.
Neville also said Republicans will pursue efforts to give Coloradans religious freedom, defend the 2nd Amendment’s right to bear arms, fund every school option equally, give parents the choice of what school is best for their children.
Neville said “It’s time to revitalize Colorado’s energy economy. When it comes to oil, gas, and coal we need to be open for business. This is why I’m calling on the governor and his party to remove the regulatory noose around the necks of oil, gas, and coal immediately.”
Neville wrapped up his speech by noting the legislature cannot try to solve every societal problem with a new statute.
“I can tell you that strategy will require far more money from taxpayers’ pockets and result in far less individual freedom,” he said. “We have to let common-sense prevail, not every issue is black and white and not every problem requires a statutory or regulatory fix.”