Gov. Hickenlooper gets big wins in Colorado legislative session

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    DENVER | As Gov. John Hickenlooper says goodbye to lawmakers for the year, he might want to send some of them thank-you cards — both for giving him what he wanted and for backing off from what he didn’t.

    In a significant shift from his statements earlier this year, Gov. John Hickenlooper said just before gun control bills were passed by state lawmakers, "the time is right" for Colorado lawmakers to consider further gun restrictions.
    In a significant shift from his statements earlier this year, Gov. John Hickenlooper said just before gun control bills were passed by state lawmakers, “the time is right” for Colorado lawmakers to consider further gun restrictions.

    By the time the session concluded Wednesday, Colorado’s Democratic governor had far more successes than setbacks. But he also gave detractors plenty of fodder to criticize the moderate reputation he’s worked to establish.

    On Thursday, Hickenlooper’s staff handed out a checklist of the priorities the governor asked lawmakers to take up in January. All the items were followed by check marks. It was the governor’s first legislative term with fellow Democrats in charge of both chambers of the Legislature, and some questioned how he’d maintain a centrist position.

    “People were saying that the Democrat majority in both houses would force me to veto a great number of bills,” Hickenlooper told reporters Thursday.

    “Our goal is to have a full communication at all times with both parties and really do our very best to make sure we don’t have to veto anything,” Hickenlooper said.

    Lawmakers followed the governor’s instructions to take steps in response to mass shootings last year, asking them to expand background checks on firearm purchases and increase services for the mentally ill. Heeding his call, lawmakers passed universal background checks — although without Republican support — and approved a budget with nearly $20 million to establish walk-in and mobile crisis services and a 24-hour hotline.

    They also granted his requests on economic development measures and a plan to change forest management in the wake of last year’s wildfires.

    Lawmakers also rejected several ideas he didn’t want to see on his desk. Those included a bill to repeal the death penalty and a series of measures to crack down on the oil and gas industry by stepping in on a state commission that regulates the industry.

    With the death penalty, a House committee scuttled a measure to end the penalty after Hickenlooper sent word he might veto it. On another measure, to set marijuana blood limits for drivers, senators rejected the bill but then approved an identical one after Hickenlooper sent a Tweet urging its passage.

    On other issues, Hickenlooper’s actions have yielded a mixed response. He’s angered the Republicans over new gun restrictions, and many in the business community are upset for his signing of a bill that increases legal relief for discrimination cases at companies with fewer than 15 employees. A proposal pending action from him would bolster firefighters’ ability to unionize. Whether he signs or veto, he’s sure to upset a constituency.

    “He’s picking and choosing what he wants to be part of his successes this year,” said Sen. Bill Cadman, the Republican Senate leader from Colorado Springs.

    Legislative leaders said after the session ended that deference to the governor only made sense.

    “It made no sense to do all the work in the House and the Senate to get legislation, to send it to the governor and to have him veto it,” said Democratic House Speaker Mark Ferrandino of Denver.

    On oil and gas regulations, seven of nine energy-regulating measures failed, many because of opposition from the governor. Several Democrats grumbled during the session that the governor was being heavy-handed. After the session ended, though, legislative leaders said they weren’t surprised by the governor’s stance on the regulators, who are appointed by the governor.

    “It’s his division … that regulates and enforces the laws. He of course would stand up for that,” said House Democratic Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst of Longmont. “I understand where he’s coming from.”

    Her comments were especially forgiving considering that she was the chief sponsor of one of the measures scuttled because of opposition from the governor, a bill to increase water-testing requirements for oil and gas wells in a populous part of the state.

    Republicans said they noticed a difference in Hickenlooper’s leadership style this year as he became more involved in steering — or scaling back — legislation.

    “One of the underlying themes we’ve had the last few years is the governor’s lack of willingness to engage on the second floor as legislation is moving through the process,” said Rep. Mark Waller of Colorado Springs, the Republican’s House leader. “He did that a little better this year. One specific example I can think of is the death penalty bill. We were really glad to see him weigh in on that before it became some sort of major floor fight.”

    But he said Hickenlooper should’ve weighed in sooner on the marijuana driving bill, which Waller sponsored.

    The governor insisted Thursday that he did his best to work with lawmakers, while not pressing too hard.

    “You never get everything you want, right?” he said. “I’m not a dictator.”

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    Kristen Wyatt can be reached at https://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt. Ivan Moreno can be reached at https://www.twitter.com/ivanjourno.