One month in, Colorado GOP making good on rollback promises

A month into the legislative session, Republican lawmakers are sending a message with a concerted push to repeal contentious measures approved by Democrats in prior years.

The effort is led by the new GOP majority in the state Senate, where lawmakers last week voted to cut renewable-energy mandates on utility companies and approved two measures to loosen restrictions on firearms.

A bill scheduled Monday for a Senate committee would repeal provisions in state law written by Democrats two years ago related to remedies for employment discrimination.

Senate President Bill Cadman said the GOP caucus' first priority has been to scrutinize government spending and eliminate unnecessary programs and regulations.

"We are doing just that," the Colorado Springs Republican said.

But with Democrats holding a 34-31 edge in the House, most hot-button issues are likely to win approval in one chamber and die in another, never to make it to Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper's desk.

"You get the feeling it's going to be a Shakespearean tragedy, and at the end of Act V all the characters are going to be dead on the stage," said Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver.

This year marks the first time in a decade Republicans have been back in power in the Senate, while House Democrats have held the majority for all but two years, in 2011 and 2012.

From his office a floor below the legislative chambers, the governor is not surprised by the political maneuvering from Republican lawmakers.

"Many of them campaigned against these issues and they are going to speak out against them and try to change them and repeal them. And that is democracy, right?" Hickenlooper said in an interview. "They want to justify what they ran on."

As they push repeal efforts, Senate Republicans are advancing an agenda that failed under Democratic control. The caucus' lawmakers led with efforts to increase scrutiny of the state health insurance exchange by reviewing executives' bonuses and expanding its performance audit.

Other GOP bills would create tax credits for parents who send their children to private school, allow counties to create workforce development boards and create a parents' bill of rights.

At the same time, since the session started Jan. 7, Republican lawmakers systematically have rejected much of the Democratic agenda. Even more alarming to critics, the majority is using its new power on the budget committee to undercut two state programs it opposes: the ability for immigrants in the country illegally to get driver's licenses and a state background check for gun purchases.

"Voters said, 'We're frustrated with the direction things are going,' " said Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs. "They said they want more freedom and fewer government mandates."

In the House, it's the opposite story: Republican agenda items and repeal measures are being voted down. GOP bills to loosen firearms restrictions, toughen election monitoring and repeal a ban on regular-flow toilets were discarded early in the session.

House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, a Boulder Democrat, said the repeal efforts send the wrong message.

"Quite frankly, we are not going to turn back the clock on any of that," she said.

Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Westminster, said Republicans have "tried to rehash all the social issues."

"Every single person I talked to (on the campaign trail) said it's the economy, focus on making sure that we are the strongest in the country, that the middle class is recovering from this recession," he said.

But not all Democrats are objecting. Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, said some of the issues deserve a second look.

"I happen to be one of the Democrats who thought some of the legislation we passed in 2013 went too far and was overreaching," Jahn said, specifically referring to controversial gun-control measures.

Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, said she tells her constituents who are unhappy with Senate votes, "We hope the House is going to take care of things."

"The hardest thing for me is dealing with the bills that try to repeal the important things we put in place, such as gun safety and anti-discrimination in business," she said.

The Senate's vote to cut renewable energy standards targets another divisive topic from 2013 that doubled the renewable-energy standard to 20 percent for rural electric cooperatives.

The debate showcased the turnabout in the chamber's control as Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud touted the measure and Senate Democratic leader Morgan Carroll fought it.

"We owe it to the people of Colorado to give them good policy. In this case, it gives the utility industry the flexibility to find the very best options for providing electricity for the people of Colorado," said Lundberg, whose home is solar powered. "It's not anti-renewable energy."

"It sets Colorado backward economically, environmentally, ecologically and financially," countered Carroll, D-Aurora. "It's disappointing. What we need right now is to move Colorado and the middle class forward and not go back and rehash old fights that take us backward."

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