Noonan: Bipartisanship may set a new high bar with rural sustainability bill

Author: Paula Noonan - April 19, 2017 - Updated: April 18, 2017

Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

Gov. John Hickenlooper takes first place, with his signature, as currently the most bipartisan politician in Colorado. He has signed 137 bills in the 2017 General Assembly. Of those, 111 are bipartisan, 15 are Dem-only sponsored and 11 are GOP-only sponsored. He has clearly set a basis that he prefers both chambers to work collaboratively.

Collaboration only goes so far in terms of substance, however. Other than budget bills, most signed legislation is narrow in focus. It’s typical that the hard bills get pushed to the last few weeks, and this year is no exception.

Both parties are good bill spikers. Of 125 pi’ed bills, 48 have GOP sponsors only, and 47 have Dem sponsors only. The House killed 33, all GOP sponsored House bills. The Senate stuck a stick into 39 all Dem sponsored Senate bills.

Of the currently spiked bills, many carry “messages.” These bills get put down by the opposite party one way or the other so the governor never has to decide whether to sign them. As examples, GOP sponsored House firearms bills were shot down in the Dem-controlled House. A Dem sponsored House bill prohibiting corporal punishment in schools was spanked in the Senate.

GOP sponsored handgun bills from the Senate passed the upper chamber but failed in the House. A Dem Senate bill to fund full-day kindergarten never crossed to the lower chamber. The messages may have gotten out, but they didn’t get through.

Certain legislators stand out as bipartisan. Republican senators Jack Tate, John Cooke, and Bob Gardner are highly sought by Democrats as bill sponsors with 10 signed bipartisan bills each. House Democrat Jeni Arndt has 12 signed bipartisan bills under her belt.

As of the Easter/Passover weekend, the House has taken 286 final votes. Among Democrats, newly elected Adrienne Benevidez from Adams County is the lowest yes voter at 269 yes’s and 17 no’s compared to House Speaker Crisanta Duran at 286 yes’s and zero no’s. In contrast, 13 House Republicans voted yes fewer than 200 times. Minority leader Patrick Neville comes in at 193 yes’s and 93 no’s.

So far in the Republican controlled Senate, Republican Randy Baumgardner has voted no on 47 final votes, followed closely by Vicki Marble and Jerry Sonnenberg at 41. Only Democrat Matt Jones has more than 40 no’s at 41. These results follow a trend from the 2016 General Assembly in which some Republican senators were less supportive of bills in their chamber than most Democrats.

Certain bills still in the hopper have received attention. Senate Bill 17-045, a construction defects bill with bipartisan sponsorship, including the House speaker and Senate president, has been sitting in Senate Appropriations since Feb. 8. SB17-009, the perennial business personal property tax exemption legislation will pass the Senate soon. The Republican sponsored bill will likely lose in the House.

SB17-267 on the ‘Sustainability of Rural Colorado’ may get amended but it’s likely to pass. It’s sponsored by two of the more conservative legislators at the Capitol, Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg and Rep. Jon Becker, both from rural eastern Colorado, and two of the most progressive legislators, Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman from Denver and Rep. KC Becker from Boulder and mountains west. The bill will help rural and some of urban Colorado with health care and public education.

The bill has support from associations with different political interests including hospitals, physicians, county commissioners, cities, contractors, osteopaths, rural health providers, bankers and business. Will this bill become a model of how the political interests in the state should work on substantive matters?

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.