10 things to watch in the 2018 Colorado legislature
Author: Joey Bunch - January 9, 2018 - Updated: January 11, 2018
Cloud of harassment
Four legislators, two Republicans and two Democrats, stand accused of sexual harassment, while others have leveled accusations or taken sides. If lawmaking is about relationships, then both could be strained in the early going.
A surplus for roads?
A December revenue forecast suggested the legislature might have unforeseen hundreds of million of dollars to spend next year. If Republicans can steer that money into transportation, it could detour a much-discussed November vote on a new statewide tax for transportation.
Dodgeball with drilling
With energy development likely to play a role in the governor’s race, expect Republicans and Democrats to try to score points on local drilling rules with partisan, ill-fated bills aimed at toughening or defending existing regulations.
Curb the crazy
No one knows where the electorate will be on President Trump or the GOP tax cuts and the economy next November. Neither side can wander too far from the middle without risking alienating local voters from local candidates with doomed “message” bills on divisive issues. Only one seat secures the GOP majority in the Senate.
Defend Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik
Speaking of that majority, protecting it is job No. 1 for Senate Republicans this year. Humenik sits in a swing seat in Thornton, and she will be facing a well-known, well-financed Democrat in Rep. Faith Winter. On the other hand, Democrats hold an open Senate seat in Lakewood that could be a toss-up. Democratic Rep. Brittany Pettersen hopes to keep the seat in her party’s hands, but she faces Republican Tony Sanchez, who has an early lead in the money race.
Non-neutral on net neutrality
Democrats across the country pounced on the FCC’s elimination of net neutrality. Democrats in Washington and Colorado are expected to try to enforce state consumer protections, in spite of the Trump administration effort to deregulate providers. Those providers could charge websites more for higher speeds, a cost likely passed on to customers. Democratic Reps. Leslie Herod and Chris Hansen, both of Denver, pledge to run a net neutrality bill to protect Coloradans that could remind voters that it’s Republicans who are messing with their internet.
A new way of budgeting
House Republicans think the budget should be written more by committees of reference involving all the legislature, not just six members on the Joint Budget Committee. Can they win over enough Democrats to rewrite the rules? House Minority Leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock and Assistant Minority Leader Cole Wist of Centennial believe there’s enough momentum and bipartisanship to do just that in 2018.
Son of 267
The failed special session in October left the job of fixing a glitch in the landmark 2017 legislation to this year’s General Assembly. Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling and Rep. Jon Becker of Fort Morgan were co-sponsors on the bill designed to save rural hospitals but accidentally stripped a handful of special districts of marijuana sales tax revenues. Both lawmakers have said they will have no hand in a fix this session. Then who will, how soon and does a delayed fix look like something other than a tiff with the Democratic governor?
Cake dictates fate
On Dec. 5, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the Masterpiece Cakeshop appeal of a Colorado Civil Rights Commission decision. Jack Phillips, the owner of the Lakewood bakery who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, claimed it violated his religious beliefs. The couple sued and the commission sided with them, eventually pushing the legal fight to the nation’s highest court. If the high court, with a 5-4 conservative majority, rules in Phillips’ favor, that would be a strike against the commission as it faces reauthorization this session. The Senate Republican majority wants changes.
ACA/CHIP woes come home
The legislative Joint Budget Committee has signed off on a request from the governor to continue funding for Colorado’s Child Health Plan Plus, which pays for health care for low-income children and pregnant women. But that money runs out on Feb. 28. Congress is expected to take up an extension of the federal program after the holiday recess, but until there’s a fix, Colorado lawmakers could be faced with trying to find ways to keep the program afloat.