Final days of session see flurry of new bills

Keywords: Durango Herald,

The 2014 Colorado legislative session is in its final hours. The state’s constitution allows the General Assembly 120 days and, after that, more legislation is only allowed if the governor calls a special session. Even then, it is limited to those issues named by the governor in the call. There is a large pile of bills still waitining for action to complete the legislative process or be killed by this year’s 120th day on Wednesday.

If I had my way, I’d move the deadline for introduction of new bills up from the last three days of the session to something like requiring they be introduced before the last three weeks. This would give the legislators less opportunity to add bills that were either filed late strategically or only hatched as an idea in the pressure cooker of the legislative session. The public is also disadvantaged by the late crush of bills as they don’t know what is introduced, amended, killed or passed. But, that’s a personal dream, not reality, and I will do my best in the short space of this column to tell you of a few bills of special interest to my district determined on the emails and calls I have received.

The annual school finance bill and the bill called the Student Success Act both passed the Senate last week, with bipartisan support. The situation is better for K-12 funding than it has been for years, but not restored to pre-recession amounts under Amendment 23. Because we have not satisfied that amount yet, there are some bills that I am voting against proposing new programs or expanding existing ones that cost additional state revenue. These can be challenging judgment calls for me to make on behalf of the senate district because I know there may be at least some support for the new expenditures, but I have to balance that with existing obligations not yet met.

Bills that improve job readiness and job opportunities for students receive more favorable votes from me. Based on feedback from constituents, I remain concerned that the number of people who are still unemployed or underemployed in Colorado is too high, even if reported statistics paint a rosier picture.

This past week, I supported a bill that would refer to Colorado voters the question of whether the setting of county elected officials’ salaries should be handled by the counties themselves. Because this bill would be a referred measure for the November ballot, it requires a supermajority vote in both chambers of the Legislature. Despite my “yes” vote, the first Senate vote does not bode well for the bill’s passage out of the chamber and we may continue to be in a stalemate on how to best handle this thorny issue.

My own bills are through the legislative process, so I’m not sweating through these last few days, other than in reading and considering carefully the large stack of bill folders placed on our floor desks daily. When we end the session, my legislative work will continue back home in the district and on interim committees, but I will not have to travel to Denver during the week as I do during the session.

My columns will now print on a monthly, rather than weekly, cycle and I appreciate the publishers who share this column with you to keep us in touch.

Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Contact Sen. Roberts by phone at (303) 866-4884, or by e-mail at ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us.