Your Colorado legislature convenes today for the first regular session of the 68th General Assembly. Legislators will join new Gov. John Hickenlooper to do the public’s business and must complete their work by May 11 to comply with the 120 days voters have provided them to do their work.
It is a cliché, but the only thing that legislators must do is pass a budget each year, and given the state’s fiscal condition, it will likely be one of the most difficult jobs as well. Budget writers have the unenviable task of balancing a budget for the third year in a row where they will begin the process knowing that there isn’t enough money to continue the previous year’s programs.
Another priority will be to draw the maps for Colorado’s congressional districts. Although our population increased during the last 10 years, it wasn’t enough to for us to gain an additional seat in Congress. Therefore, the legislature must move district lines to equalize population. We lie in the 6th Congressional District, which needs to add approximately 100,000 new residents. Legislative leadership recently announced a bipartisan select committee co-chaired by Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder and Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, that will conduct hearings throughout the state and develop a map. As our congressional delegation has swung from Republican control to Democrat and back to Republican under the current map, each party will be looking for ways to shift things in ways that will be to its advantage in the next five general elections.
With a new governor comes a new Cabinet that must be confirmed by the Senate. Senators traditionally show deference to governors in their selections, and a Democratic majority in the Senate makes it almost certain that all of Hickenlooper’s picks will be confirmed. However, his nomination of Ellen Golombek, a longtime union official, to head the Department of Labor and Employment has resulted in complaints from Republicans and will undoubtedly lead to a spirited confirmation hearing and lively floor debate.
Other than the budget, look for action on the economy, jobs, tax policy, medical marijuana, schools, energy, civil unions and human services. With a House controlled by Republicans and the Senate in Democratic hands, it is unlikely that anything that is perceived as too extreme will make its way through the process. As bills are introduced and discussed, it will be interesting to see how many controversial bills pass one chamber before dying in the other, or whether they are simply not introduced.
It’s always interesting and there are always issues that no one can anticipate that become important discussions. But Mark Twain’s 1866 quote, “No man’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session,” should lead all of us to pay attention for the next four months.
Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.