State legislators just getting warmed up

DENVER – Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Colorado legislators have done a lot this year.

If the session ended today, it would go down as one of the most productive and liberal ever, with new laws allowing civil unions, in-state tuition for children who lack citizenship and some of the only new gun control bills in the country this year, and they are on their way to expanding eligibility for Medicaid.

But with 30 days left in their annual session, Democrats are just getting warmed up.

This week, they start rolling out an ambitious agenda for the last month at the Capitol.

It begins this afternoon, with a bill to impose a stricter renewable energy standard on the state’s largest rural electric cooperatives. Currently, big investor-owned utilities will have to produce 30 percent of their power from wind, solar or other renewable fuels by 2020. But the customer-owned rural co-ops have just a 10 percent standard.

Senate Bill 252 would raise that to 25 percent for co-ops with more than 100,000 customers and to Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which supplies most Colorado co-ops with their electricity.

Here’s what else to expect during the month of April:

Voting by mail

Later this week, Democrats are expected to introduce a major election reform bill. People who have seen the bill say it will make voting by mail the predominant form of voting. Neighborhood voting spots will go away, in favor of a few centralized voting centers for people who prefer to vote in person.

Republicans are warning that the bill could include same-day registration, which would let people register to vote and cast their vote the same day. Currently, the deadline to register is about a month before Election Day.

“This is nothing more than a partisan power-grab by Democrats, taken at the expense of integrity in our elections,” Colorado Republican Committee Chairman Ryan Call said in a news release.

Drug sentencing

SB 250 would reduce the standard prison sentence for people convicted of less serious drug crimes. A bipartisan group has tried to pass drug sentencing reform in previous years, to little effect.

Immigrant driver’s licenses

SB 251 would grant driver’s licenses to people who immigrated illegally, if they can prove they paid taxes and provide an identification card from their home country. Its first hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

Gas and oil crackdown

Democrats have already introduced several bills to more strictly regulate drilling. None has passed yet, but they are moving through the Legislature. Some lawmakers have talked about increasing the 500-foot buffer zone between new wells and homes or schools, but such a bill has not yet been introduced.

Gov. John Hickenlooper warned at a debate last week that he’s not in favor of a bill that reorients the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to favor environmental protection over gas and oil production.

Give those guys a raise

Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, says he will soon introduce a bill to give raises to the governor, attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state. Currently, the governor makes $90,000, the attorney general $80,000 and the other two officials $68,500.

Pot regulation

In the midst of all of the above, legislators still have to adopt regulations on marijuana, which voters legalized last November. Legislators expect to vote on a complex new law to impose tight regulations and possibly high taxes on a product that has been illegal for decades.

Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, said he guarantees that the Legislature will be able to adopt pot regulations without needing a special session after the scheduled May 8 adjournment date.

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