Members of the Colorado House of Representatives on May 9, 2022. (Pema Baldwin for Colorado Newsline)
Democratic state leaders are naming housing affordability, water policy and public safety as top priorities as they prepare to begin the new Colorado legislative session next week with large majorities in both General Assembly chambers.
“You’re going to see our priorities look and feel a lot like the ones we focused on last session. What that looks like to us is making Colorado more affordable,” Senate President Steve Fenberg of Boulder told Colorado Newsline Tuesday.
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This session will be different from those in previous few years because lawmakers will not have large amounts of one-time pandemic relief money to fuel new programs and initiatives. Assistant Majority Leader Jennifer Bacon of Denver said that reality gives them a chance to build upon existing programs.
“We’re in a space to lay down brickwork and foundations, and we have a lot of work to do in those areas,” she said. “Whether it’s the environment or education, we’re in a space of saying ‘Here’s what we’ve got, and here’s where we want to go. Let’s move the parts around.’ It will be a unique experience for sure.”
In addition to working on more affordable health care and child care, legislators will pursue policies that make it more feasible for Coloradans to find a stable place to live. Majority Leader Monica Duran of Wheat Ridge said residents can expect solutions that are “outside the box” and pull in input from local partners.
Last session, the Legislature passed a package of measures that amounted to $428 million of pandemic relief funds to preserve and construct affordable housing.
“It’s not one step that’s going to fix this. We need to look at different avenues and different ways, as well as the different needs,” Duran said. “What is going to work best for families to feel like they have a place to call home — whatever that looks like?”
Fenberg said that any conversations around housing affordability would not take away power from local municipalities but would try to balance action from state and local entities to solve the housing crisis.
“It’s a tough conversation, but one we have to have for the sake of the future of our state,” he said.
“These are not problems that can be solved by any one city alone,” Fenberg said. “They have to be more collaborative in nature. The question is about how we are going to grow. Is it going to be in a way that 10 years from now we wake up and say we started getting things on the right track and we’re proud of how we developed and did it in a smart way?”
That could mean policies that encourage housing in areas of anticipated growth and along transit corridors, and public transportation options.
Public safety concerns will also be a priority in the Legislature this year, following a campaign season that saw a spotlight on property crime and fentanyl distribution. Fenberg said the Democrats will be focused on policies that address the “root cause” of crime, such as behavioral health issues or economic concerns, instead of simply incarcerating more offenders.
“It might look and feel a little different than how some of our opponents talked about it during campaigning. For us, it’s really about identifying the problem that needs to be solved and solving it,” he said.
As far as legislation on firearms, Duran said that “everything is open to a conversation,” including age requirements and revisions to the state’s red flag law.
“I’ve stressed this to our caucus to bring opponents to the table as well. You’ve got to have those conversations. Sometimes, good ideas come from hearing those opponents and different thoughts,” she said. “We need to do something to make sure we are saving as many lives as we can. What that looks like might seem different to everyone.”
The new legislative session convenes in Denver on Jan. 9.
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