Lawmakers met Jan.13 for the 2005 Colorado legislative session with Democrats in power for the first time in four decades, and it is likely they will be swinging at a lot of bills coming their way.
As always, taxpayers will be monitoring whether legislators will be hitting home runs or striking out at the plate. Many are anticipating a busy 2005 session and they only have 120 days, by law, to do it.
Some of the issues that have already been pitched on Capitol Hill, in Denver, range from issues of education to Colorado's fiscal crisis, including Taxpayer's Bill of Rights-related issues, and health care.
Gov. Bill Owens asked lawmakers "to work together to make Colorado stronger and more prosperous" in his State of the State on Monday.
Here is a look at some of the key issues the Colorado General Assembly will be considering this spring.
Owens is already pushing his Fiscal Stabilization Plan, which, in part, proposes to drop personal income tax and invest $100 million annually for damaged roads across the state.
House Speaker Rep. Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, said he is already in favor of the income tax cut from 4.63 percent to 4.5 percent, calling it a "simple and ambitious plan."
Earlier this month Democrats mapped out a plan of action for 2005, promising to work on the wounded economy by balancing the budget and keeping TABOR to allow taxpayers the right to continue to vote on taxes.
"One of my primary goals for this legislative session is to restore funding to higher education," said Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins.
Higher Education Tuition Tax Credit
House Bill 1085 creates an income tax credit against the state income tax for tuition paid to a Colorado institution of higher education.
Bacon has also proposed several bills he expects will especially affect college-aged students, such as the House Bill 1042 about emergency contraception, which is designed to help with the availability of emergency contraception to victims of sexual assault.
Another of Bacon's proposed bills involves keg identification in order to cut down on underage drinking. He also wants to ban Alcohol With Out Liquid (AWOL), a new type of ventilation system that allows people to inhale alcohol and bypass the hangover.
Sunday liquor sales
Senate Bill 77, proposed by Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, would allow local governments to authorize the sale of alcohol on Sunday between noon and 8 p.m. Liquor stores and the like would be required to close on Christmas Day. However, concerns may arise regarding this bill, especially among business owners.
"It's going to make it really easy for the consumer but we don't see how it's going to change our sales much," said Job Burdick, manager of Uptown Liquor, 1833 E. Harmony Road. "I know it's going to cost me more to staff on Sundays."
Sen. Mark Hillman, R-Denver, said the goals for Republicans this session are to protect taxpayers by fixing the state's budget problems while preserving essential state services to the people of Colorado.
On the Colorado Senate Web site, Hillman said the health care market is beginning to rebound thanks to reforms two years earlier, but he said "further improvements are needed."
Furthermore, Hillman said in order for jobs to continue to grow, an effective education system must be in place, "one that seeks parental input and does not deny choice and opportunity to poor students in struggling," he said.
Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora, proposed Senate Bill 85, which protects the academic freedom of students and staff on college campuses. If passed, the bill would bar the use of political or religious views for reward, advancement, special protection or unsupported claims of discrimination.
If House Bill 1057 passes, school districts would be required to tell parents what classes their children should take, which would help them better prepare for college. Schools would also have to provide information about financial aid availability for college.
Rep. Jerry Frangas, D-Denver, proposed House Bill 1057, which would also give students the option to opt out of college prep courses in high school but would require parents to sign off on the decision.
A group of Democrats would like to propose that certain colleges or academic programs be able to set their own tuition without state control, as well as let them off the hook from other state mandates.
The Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance, a lobby group that follows business groups in Northern Colorado, would like to allow tobacco settlement money to be spent on higher education this year. They will be lobbying in this year's legislative session.