Session has a long way to go

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By Greg Romberg

Saturday will mark the halfway point of the Colorado General Assembly’s 120-day session. As expected, budget issues have dominated the first half of the session. Beyond that, the tenor of the session has been decidedly contradictory.
There have been many bills with a partisan flavor that have been passed or failed in one house or the other on predicted party-line votes. However, there have been other bills that have become partisan for no apparent reason, and debates in both the House and Senate have been more than a little chippy when partisanship has reared its head. But against that backdrop, two of the most important issues of the session have been approached in very bipartisan ways.
The joint committee that is tasked with drawing new maps for Colorado’s seven congressional districts has been meeting weekly and is now roughly halfway through a series of public meetings around the state to gather input about how to redraw the lines. While the hardest work will begin after the meetings are over and specific maps are debated, the group’s equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats and senators and representatives, along with the bipartisan spirit under which the process was designed and announced, make it easy to be optimistic about the likelihood of a successful process. Success will be achieved if the legislature can adopt new maps instead of letting the courts decide, as was the case 10 years ago. Similarly, the legislature is poised to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot to make it more difficult to amend the constitution and more difficult for the legislature to repeal citizen-initiated laws that is a study in bipartisanship. The Senate president, House speaker and both minority leaders are sponsors of the proposal, and there are prime sponsors from both parties in each house.
In his first legislative session, Gov. John Hickenlooper has focused virtually all of his attention on budget issues. His proposed budget suggested the most dramatic and draconian cuts seen in recent memory, but given the state of the budget and Colorado’s constitutional mandate for a balanced budget, bold action was absolutely necessary. His proposal brought cheers from Republicans and opposition from his fellow Democrats. It will be an ongoing struggle to craft and pass the final budget bill in a legislature with split control.
As we enter the second half of the session, budget issues will continue to dominate, but expect to see congressional redistricting, medical marijuana, civil unions, immigration and tax issues get a lot of play before the legislature adjourns May 11.

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.