There’s unfinished business under the Gold Dome in Denver for Democrats, but for many lawmakers that’ll hopefully no longer be the case when the session ends in May.

The Democrats, for the first time in several years, have control of the House and Senate, leaving the party with a straight shot to Governor-elect Jared Polis’s office, who has already said he’ll sign various pieces of legislation, such as eliminating the death penalty.

Transportation will be one of the key items on this year’s agenda for the Colorado State Legislature. Other notable issues include a “red-flag” bill, affordable housing and campaign finance reform. Sentinel file photo

At the forefront of those unresolved issues is transportation funding, which saw two failed ballot initiatives in November — one of which came from legislators.

“It’s tricky, there’s not a unified singular approach. We’ve got to make sure it’s one of the top priorities,” Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, told the Sentinel.

It’s so far unclear what legislators will take on during the body’s four-month meeting, but Garcia did say there’s some way to address infrastructure funding outside of the state legislature. He pointed to what Colorado Springs has done in recent years by raising taxes for road projects.

“We need to talk about it (funding) from the statewide perspective for short gaps,” he said, explaining that any solution will have to be multi-faceted. “The voters were clear they didn’t expect it through the ballot initiatives.”

Tiago Gayosso, a student of Jefferson County, Colo., schools in Edgewater, carries a sign as he marches around the State Capitol during a teacher rally Thursday, April 26, 2018, in Denver. More than 10,000 teachers in Colorado demonstrated as part of a burgeoning teacher uprising from the East to the interior West that is demanding more tax dollars be spent in public schools. AP Photo

Also making an expected return: gun legislation.

The return of a “red flag” bill has already caught the attention of lawmakers, gun rights activists and reform supporters. The bill, which had a Republican co-sponsor and the support of a handful of Republican law enforcement leaders, failed in the GOP-led Senate last year.

The proposed bill sought to grant law enforcement officials and family members the ability to petition courts to seek “extreme risk protection orders,” which would strip weapons from people deemed to be a threat. Officials or family members seeking such civil orders would have to make their case at a court hearing. If a judge believed the person referenced in an order to be a threat, an initial ERPO would be imposed for seven days, according to the legislative summary of the bill. If the person is still determined to be dangerous in subsequent hearings, the order could be extended for up to 182 days.

Tom Sullivan

Now, Rep.-elect Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial, will carry that bill, according to the lawmaker. His son was murdered in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting.

While the incoming lawmaker has been a mainstay at the state Capitol for gun-related legislation, Sullivan said he also wants to focus on jobs and technical education.

“We need to work with the schools and get these kids out of school into good apprenticeship programs,” he told the Sentinel earlier this year.

Take it to the house

Affordable housing is among a top priority for Aurora-region lawmakers. Rep. Dominique Jackson said she’s teaming up with fellow Aurora Democrat Mike Weissman to bring a bill back she’s dubbed the “Healthy Homes Act,” which Jackson says is a warranty of habitability for renters in the state.

The bill will ensure that people live in safe conditions and that landlords are responding to issues raised by tenants — such as having a working heater, for example — in a timely manner. It’s a bill that hasn’t seen much success in the legislature in previous sessions, but “this will be the year it will pass,” Jackson said.

Dominique Jackson

Jackson also plans to introduce a bill that would allow people more time before being evicted. The law, if passed, would dictate that eviction proceedings take place 14 days after rent is not paid, instead of the current three days, according to Jackson.

“It gives people a little extra time,” she said, noting that 14 days could allow people one more paycheck and possibly prevent an eviction.

“Housing is the cornerstone of strong communities,” Jackson said. The lawmaker, who represents central Aurora, said she experienced homelessness as a teenager, and so the topic is especially important to her.

Aurora has the highest eviction rate in the state and is 33rd in the nation for evictions, with an estimated eight evictions happening each day, according to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. The city has been allocating money from recreational marijuana revenue to prevent evictions, but Shelley McKittrick, the homelessness program director for the city, told the Sentinel earlier this year real change can come from state lawmakers to give renters more rights — something McKittrick said could be a major factor in Aurora’s high eviction rate.

“We have lots of ideas of how to improve the situation, but until we have the laws to back that up… it’s difficult to stop the bleeding,” she said.

Affordable housing was undoubtedly a top talking point Weissman said he heard on the campaign trail across northeast Aurora this year, the lawmaker said. And while local governments have been struggling to find ways to keep housing prices affordable, those municipal leaders have also been looking to the state for solutions, leaving the question of which governing body can have the most impact.

Mike Weissman

“If you look at the last two years, it’s been hard to get some things passed in the GOP-majority Senate,” Weissman told the Sentinel. “Legalistically, we are a strong local control state, so things like building codes, lot sizes and things like that could translate into lower construction costs. There are some policy questions that are domain of local government. That doesn’t reduce what the state can do.”

Weissman said there can be more done to bolster what resources the state gets from the federal government and acknowledged the passion he’s seen from state staff to alleviate housing prices.

“We need to find ways to commit more resources,” he said.

Jovan Melton

Aurora Rep. Jovan Melton said he will bring back his “right to rest” bill that would have given people rights to eat or sleep in public. The bill has made four attempts in the legislature. Last year, the bill saw a 14-hour debate in a GOP-lead Senate committee, where it eventually failed.  Melton told the Sentinel he also wants to take on some victims advocacy legislation, but it’s so far uncertain what that might look like. Melton won reelection in November, after a Denver Post report put his arrest record from more than a decade ago on public display. Melton had charges related to two separate alleged domestic violence incidents, although he was never convicted.

Money in politics

On Weissman’s list is campaign finance reform — a subject the lawmaker has unsuccessfully taken up in the past, and seen first hand in his House race where his Republican opponent, Richard Bowman, loaned his own campaign $100,000, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s campaign finance records — an unprecedented amount of money in any state legislature race prior to this cycle.

“This is an area where we can do more,” Weissman said. “I think people are tired of the amount of money in politics and the difficulty of following it.”

Rhonda Fields

In step with her Aurora colleagues, Sen. Rhonda Fields is also reviving previously failed legislation. The lawmaker, who has focused on criminal justice reform, still wants to extend the statute of limitations of not reporting child abuse. Stakeholders couldn’t reach a compromise last legislative session, the Catholic Church being one party that didn’t want to see the statute of limitations increased.

Instead of the 18 months that’s currently written into law, Fields wants to see the statute of limitations at 10 years.

“Last year, it was at the point of discovery, we moved it back to 10 years,” she said. “Opposition wants to make it double the (current) amount. That’s still not long enough in my view, but we are making progress.”

School ties

On education, Aurora Sen. Nancy Todd, who will chair the Senate education committee, said it will be a year to make sure that resources are properly allocated and the state is making the best out of what it has to work with.

State Rep. Nancy Todd poses at the Colorado Capitol in Denver. (Heather L. Smith/Aurora Sentinel)

“My first bill is going to be adding on to the work we’ve done last year for the rural teachers,” she said of a bill she passed last year. “…We set a cap on how many people could apply for the stipend and support (and) we had well over 50 teachers apply. We want to come back and tweak that so we can lift the cap and not limit how many teachers are applying.”

Though it will be a busy year for education, Todd said it doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a lot of introduction of new bills.

“I want to make sure how we’re spending money is the most effective. I think that will be something that is not necessarily an introduction of a lot of new programs and bills, but I want to say ‘let’s sort and clean out and use the dollars that taxpayers have trusted us with and use them prudently,’” she said.

More regulations on oil and gas production could also be coming down the pike. In previous sessions, Senate Republicans stymied Democratic attempts to push through health- and safety-minded regulations – including a 2017 attempt to map submerged pipelines after gas leaked into a Firestone home and ignited, killing two people.

FILE–In this Aug. 16, 2018, file photo a pump jack works in a recently-constructed residential development in Frederick, Colo. Voters in Colorado will consider a proposal to tightly restrict where new oil and gas wells can be drilled in the state in the election on Tuesday, Nov. 6. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

New life for energy

Incoming state Sen. Mike Foote, who will represent parts of Erie, Lafayette and Longmont, introduced several oil and gas bills as a state representative that were blocked by senators across the aisle – including the pipeline-mapping bill. He said he and other lawmakers are planning to introduce regulations that have a better shot of passing the legislature and winning the signature of Gov.-elect Polis.

Jared Polis, Colorado’s Democratic governor-elect, waves to the crowd before U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally with young voters on the campus of the University of Colorado Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in Boulder. AP Photo

“I think we can expect a fair hearing on changes to the oil and gas system,” Foote said. “I don’t think that’s something we had in the Republican-controlled Senate.”

Foote said he couldn’t detail specific bills but he expected bills that would establish local control of oil and gas production, protect air quality, and reform the practice of forced pooling, wherein the state can override rights of property owners to allow drilling on their land.

He also expected upcoming measures to increase the mandatory setback between oil and gas operations and buildings like homes from 500 feet. Voters rejected a statewide ballot initiative in November that would have extended setbacks to almost half a mile.

The measure was also opposed by then-Democratic Gubernatorial nominee Polis.


Get to know the Aurora region delegation

• Sen. Rhonda Fields, SD 29

Chairwoman, Senate Health and Human Services Senate Committee

Senate State Affairs Committee

Capitol phone: 303-866-4879

Email: [email protected]

• Sen. Nancy Todd, SD 28

Senate Education Committee

Senate Appropriations and Finance Committee

Capitol phone: 303-866-3432

Email: nancy.[email protected]

• Rep. Janet Buckner, HD 40

Speaker Pro Tem

House Education Committee

House Health and Insurance Committee

Capitol phone: 303-866-2944

Email: [email protected]

• Rep. Mike Weissman, HD 36

House Judiciary Committee

House Energy and Environment Committee

Capitol phone: 303-866-2942

Email: [email protected]

• Rep. Jovan Melton, HD 41

House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee

Capitol phone: 303-866-2919

Email: [email protected]

• Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, HD30

Capitol phone: 303-866-2945

House Education Committee

Vice Chair, House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee

Email: [email protected]

• Rep. Tom Sullivan, HD 37

House Business Affairs and Labor Committee

House Finance Committee.

Capitol phone: N/A

Email: [email protected]

• Rep. Rod Bockenfeld, HD 56

House Appropriations Committee

House Finance Committee

House Judiciary Committee

Capitol phone: N/A

Email: [email protected]

• Rep. Dominique Jackson, HD 42

Chairwoman of the House Energy and Environment Committee

House Health and Insurance Committee

Capitol phone: 303-866-3911

Email: [email protected]