Jan 182006
 
Authors: ames Baetke

Evident among the 100-plus bills introduced so far, lawmakers under the gold dome in Denver have the opportunity this year to spend money rather than find places to cut it.

Voters in November narrowly passed Referendum C, allowing Colorado legislators to spend billions of dollars that would otherwise go back, in part, to taxpayers in a refund and eliminate state spending limits over five years.

The referendum gives lawmakers such as Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Fort Collins, wiggle room to spend money – a Band-Aid of sorts – repairing cuts made last year.

"We need to spend as exactly as we should," Johnson said.

Last session, lawmakers made cuts all over the place, Johnson said. Much of the money from Referendum C is earmarked for such destinations as education, transportation and healthcare, so the allocation should be a fairly easy process, he said.

Sen. David Owen, R-Greeley, says Referendum C is a relief on Colorado taxpayers and legislators who have struggled in the past in making hurtful cuts in the state.

"Referendum C will restore some reductions we had to make," Owen said. "We still have to stay within the 6 percent spending limit."

Rep. Angie Paccione, a Democrat from Fort Collins, is optimistic that during this session, lawmakers will be cohesive in making the best decisions for Colorado concerning Referendum C spending.

"C will be easy to delegate because it is earmarked," Paccione said.

As the 65th General Assembly gains its footing, Johnson said CSU will often be on his mind.

"CSU is the economic engine of Northern Colorado. We need to pay attention to it," Johnson said.

Owen, who is perhaps the longest-standing lawmaker at the Capitol, believes this newest session will offer "about 90-percent" bi-partisan cooperation.

His agenda this session: "We ought to make higher education less expensive. I am very concerned about this."

CSU is also a priority with Sen. Bob Bacon, a Fort Collins Democrat, who realizes the university as an economic flagship in Northern Colorado.

"I recognize CSU is the major employer in Fort Collins and is on the top of my agenda," Bacon said.

Seth Masket, an associate political science professor at the University of Denver, says lawmakers are usually a bi-partisan whole, but there are still dividing issues to contend over.

"There are still some things to argue about," Masket said, such as where to spend extra money from Referendum C.

Every session, including the current one, is important to legislators, he said.

Tip of the Iceberg

If this session is like others in the past, the 100-plus bills introduced thus far will only be the tip of the iceberg – at least 500 bills are expected.

Lawmakers typically sponsor around 3 bills each and co-sponsor and support many others. This year's bills reflect thoughts of cracking down on sexual deviants, proposing a plan to further support the underserved student in higher education and a bill designed to require home-selling contracts to disclose whether the home was part of a methamphetamine laboratory.

State of the State

Gov. Bill Owens is spending his last year in office by trying to dissolve party lines and get much-needed work done. In his State of the State speech – an address he has made eight times now – the governor highlighted many issues that concern him, including the high cost of higher education.

"It's also clear that not enough of our high school graduates are going on to college. That's why we need to address a problem I call the 'Colorado Paradox.' While we rank second in the nation in college degrees per capita, we lag far behind in the percentage of our own students who go on to pursue a college education," Owens said in his speech on Jan. 12.

Owens said he would like to see limits on tuition increases while boosting state funding for financial aid.

Here is a short list of Senate (SB) and House (HB) bills introduced to the session thus far:

  • HB 1026 – Would increase the penalty for sexually assaulting a child under 13 to life imprisonment.
  • SB 6 – Would mandate an analysis performed for each state-owned or state-assisted major facility to include an analysis of the use of biofuel to provide power for the building.
  • HB 1011 – Would prohibit a sexual predator from using Internet chat rooms to lure a child to a meeting place and would require any person convicted of such a crime to register as a sex offender.
  • SB 2 – Would require property owners to disclose whether their property was ever used as a methamphetamine lab, with hazardous chemicals requiring costly cleanup.
  • HB 1016 – Would prohibit smoking in workplaces, public meeting places, elevators, buses and light-rail trains, grocery stores, jury waiting rooms and restaurants. Some businesses may be omitted, such as cigar bars.
  • SB 54 – Would repeal state law that bans local governments from regulating dangerous dogs, including pit bulls.
  • SB 1 – Would allow Colorado to join a pool of other states to buy prescription drugs in bulk at lower costs.
  • SB 64 – Would require close monitoring of vendors awarded state contracts and require the state to seek specific remedies for nonperformance.
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