At Capitol, 2014 is looking like 2013

DENVER – If Republicans get their way, Colorado’s 2014 legislative session, which starts Wednesday, will be like be like “The Hangover Part 2” – not so much a sequel as a frame-by-frame remake of the original.

Democrats, though, say they’ve seen the original movie and liked it, but this year they’re in the mood for something a little less rollicking.

The 2013 session generated near-daily headlines on gun control, elections, renewable energy mandates and gay rights. It also led to the recall of two Democratic senators, Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron. A third senator, Evie Hudak, resigned in the face of a recall threat.

The recalls leave Democrats clinging to an 18-17 majority in the Senate, as emboldened Republicans say they will try to repeal or change many of last year’s laws, including universal background checks, ammunition magazine limits and a vote-by-mail bill that made it easier to register to vote. They also want to lessen a renewable energy mandate and change a law that forces domestic violence suspects to surrender their guns.

Democrats would prefer to let the 2013 laws stay on the books, and have a quiet session instead. But that won’t be the case.

“To think that stuff won’t come back up – that’s definitely going to happen this year,” said House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland.

And Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, also thinks much of the 2014 political season will be about 2013.

“They may try to run from their record this year, but they can’t hide in the election season,” Cadman said.

However, even though the narrow Senate majority complicates life for Democrats, they still can control the fate of bills by assigning them to friendly or hostile committees.

Repeals of the 2013 legislation won’t happen, Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver.

“If they want to spend their time rehashing debates we had last year, that’s up to them,” Ferrandino said. “But we’re not open to wholesale repealing of what we were able to accomplish last year.”

Republicans say that at the very least, they should be able to block radical new laws. However, Democrats aren’t proposing much in the first place. Their leaders admit this year’s agenda is much more sparse than last year’s.

“The first session after an election is always a very busy year,” Ferrandino said. “And then the year of the election, it tends to be a little quieter, and a year of posturing over smaller things.”

Ferrandino said his party will focus on three areas: recovery from the flood and fires, boosting the economy, and education reforms in the wake of the failure of a billion-dollar tax increase for schools last November.

Senate President-elect Morgan Carroll also said this year’s agenda isn’t as headline-grabbing as 2013 was.

“Last year, there was in our view a pent-up demand of a lot of unfinished business,” Carroll said, naming same-sex civil unions, in-state tuition for students who immigrated illegally, and renewable energy standards.

Senate Democrats’ top-priority bill mirrors a proposal by Gov. John Hickenlooper to pump an extra $100 million into colleges. Senate Democrats also want to cap tuition increases at 6 percent for the next two years, but Hickenlooper has said he already has a “handshake agreement” with colleges boards to limit tuition hikes.

So that leaves a rehash of 2013 debates as the biggest item on the agenda.

One difference this year, Carroll said, is that Democrats will not try to sandwich all the controversial hearings into one day. They took heat last year when hundreds of people turned out to testify against the gun bills but were turned away.

“We’ll take just as much time as we need for every bill, guns included, to make sure everyone gets a chance to testify,” Carroll said.

But after the testimony is over, Republican bills will have a hard time surviving unfriendly committees.

“The reality is, the votes are what they are, but at least people want to know their voices are being heard,” DelGrosso said.