The top Democrats in the state house on Thursday offered a glimpse at some of their broad goals for the upcoming legislative session, which begins Friday with a new-look General Assembly.
It’s a look both House Speaker-designate K.C. Becker of Boulder and Majority Leader Alec Garnett of Denver will enjoy, while saying they’re determined to work with their Republican colleagues as much as they can.
That’s partially a response to concerns raised of Dems overplaying their hand — they’ve got a majority not only in the House but also in the Senate. They’re not convinced that the last time they were accused of such a thing — back in 2013 — was that accurate anyway. Becker said 90 percent of the legislation passed during that session was bipartisan.
“We absolutely will make an effort in every instance we can to make it bipartisan,” Becker said. “But it’s not going to stop us from doing things that we really want to get done.”
On Thursday, they once again laid out their ambitious legislative checklist. While they were short on specifics — those could come Friday during opening day remarks — Becker said they’ve focused their agenda on three things: Building an economy that works for everyone, advancing the Colorado way of life and investing in the state’s future.
Becker said their first few bills will be related to healthcare, renewable energy and education. She promised more details Friday.
Creating an “economy that works for all” will be addressed with a bill that’s always been on the top of Democrats’ wish list.
“A bill that we’ve been working on for several years is family, (a) family medical leave act,” Becker said. “Colorado’s economy is booming. Not everyone is feeling that.”
Investing “in the state’s future” means addressing transportation concerns, which voters were unable to address during the November election. They want to add new funding for K-12 and early childhood education. Here, leaders will have an ally in Gov.-elect Jared Polis, who wants to bring universal pre-K and kindergarten to the state.
“Families are experiencing a lot of pain points,” Garnett said. “When they’re trying to make ends meet, you’re looking at early childhood education, you’re looking at housing, and one really important theme is health care costs.”
He said early childhood education needs to be a priority for both chambers. As far as paying for the lofty plan, Garnett said it’s basically wait-and-see. He said it’ll need to be done “in a way that fits into what is a very efficient budget.”
Investing in the state’s future will also include improving the state’s air quality, Becker said.
“A lot of people are coming to Colorado because of our quality of life here,” she said. “And that’s access to the outdoors, a clean environment, our commitment to renewable energy and our environmental values.
It’s not necessarily at the top of their list, but Democrats are interested in creating more statewide funding for affordable housing.
This is a concern that extends far beyond Denver’s borders.
Last fall, Becker joined other state lawmakers in creating a stakeholders group that met three times to discuss affordable housing.
“Everyone agreed, we need new money in affordable housing,” she said.
Getting there will be tricky. As far as solutions, Becker said they’re interested in looking at several ideas. It could mean putting money into an existing trust fund or finding new sources of revenue she said haven’t come up in the past.
“Our caucus is also going to look at not just the creation of new affordable housing, but how easy it is for people to stay in their housing,” Becker said, adding this will include looking at issues related to a warranty of habitability or rental application fees. “Affordable housing is a factor everywhere in the state.”
Becker’s district includes Jackson County, which she said is twice the size of Boulder County but with roughly 1,400 people living in the area.
“When I met with the county commissioners this summer, they said their number-one issue is affordable housing,” Becker said. “It kind of displays itself in different ways in every part of this state.”
In 2013, the assembly passed laws including new gun control legislation, bills setting renewable energy standards and a bill allowing same-sex unions. The gun control legislation ended up costing Democrats a few seats.
“I look at 2013 and so many of the policies where folks screamed ‘overreach,’ they’re now saying, ‘Actually, that was a really good idea,’ or, ‘That makes total sense,'” Becker said.
“People are going to scream ‘overreach’ no matter what we do.”
Garnett said people will see “Democrats governing responsibly” for four years, if not longer.
“I think Coloradans and unaffiliateds have given us the trust and they want us to move forward in a way that truly sort of meets their expectations for how a government’s supposed to work,” Garnett said.