A record 34 new members were sworn into the House and Senate. Some 8 of these are transfers from the House to the Senate, but regardless there are a lot of new faces, names and players at the Capitol to get to know. Adding to this challenge will be a virtually new roster of members on each of the committees in both houses.
In addition to the new faces in the rank and file, new leaders will preside over both houses. In the Senate, former Majority Leader John Morse (D-Fountain) is the new Senate President and Senator Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora) takes his place as Majority Leader. All Senate Committees have new members and 5 of the 10 will have new chairs. In the House, former Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver) was elected Speaker. Representative Mark Waller (R-Colorado Springs) assumes the post of Minority Leader. All 11 House committee have both new members and new chairs.
Perhaps the only constant this session is Governor Hickenlooper who begins the third year of his first 4- year term and his third legislative session. Unlike the prior two sessions, he will be faced with strong Democratic majorities in both houses and likely have to manage and make decisions on political fringe issues from some of the traditional Democratic constituencies, including environmentalists, labor unions and the plaintiffs attorney bar. Because he is unofficially running for reelection now, it is expected he will work closely with Speaker Ferrandino and President Morse in hopes that they will turn back some of more controversial issues before he is forced to take a position or use his veto pen.
In his State of the State, the Governor sounded many of the same upbeat themes we have come to expect from him, including extolling the improvement of the State’s economy and tax receipts, improved job outlook, more efficiencies in state government and the importance of setting aside political differences to work together in bipartisan fashion. Although the speech was primarily a 30,000-foot view of the state, he did urge support for a list of specific policy proposals, including expansion of Medicaid, improved fire mitigation, insurance reforms, universal background checks for all gun sales, civil unions, child welfare improvements, reduced in-state tuition for children of undocumented aliens, enterprise zone changes and constitutional reforms to address the TABOR, Gallagher and Amendment 23 conundrum. Legislator reaction to the speech was generally enthusiastic.
In addition to the issues mentioned specifically by the Governor, a long list of policy challenges looms over the Capitol this session, potentially including school finance reform, gun control changes, a structure for the recent voter-passed Amendment 64 legalization of marijuana, oil and gas regulatory reforms and possibly changes to collective bargaining and tort reform.