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The one thing that everyone of any political stripe can agree on when looking back at the 2013 legislative session is that a whole lot happened. The furious pace lasted 120 days. But the political and policy impact of last year’s session will be felt indefinitely.Here are the top stories from the 2013 legislative session:
Guns, guns, guns. Did we mention guns?
There is no way to overstate the significance that gun legislation had on Colorado politics in 2013.Democrats scored major victories in passing bills that led to universal background checks on gun sales and limited the number of rounds that can be held in high-capacity ammunition magazines.
The legislation attempts made national headlines and even prompted a visit from President Barack Obama, who touted Colorado’s gun-control efforts as a model for the nation.
Gun bills did not get off the ground in Congress, in spite of tragedies such as the Aurora theater shooting and Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre taking place in the same year. Yet in Colorado — a perennial swing state — Democrats made changes.But two key pieces of the Democrats’ gun package failed: One that sought to ban concealed weapons from being carried on college campuses and another that would have held assault gun manufacturers and owners liable for crimes committed with those weapons.
Still, state Democrats did what couldn’t be done at the national level. But there were consequences to their actions.
The gun bills were met with fiery Capitol protests by pro-gun groups during the session. They and Republican lawmakers warned that Democrats would rue the day they chose to embark on those efforts.
That certainly was the case for three Democratic legislators.The Democratic majority in the Senate shrunk to a single vote after Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo lost separate recall elections that were spurred by their votes on gun bills. Two Republicans will take over their seats in the Senate this year.
The recall movement didn’t stop there. Facing a potential recall election of her own, Sen. Evie Hudak of Westminster resigned rather than risk handing power over to Republicans in the Senate.
The recalls served as a reminder of just how powerful the gun lobby is in Colorado.
Not so fast, kids
The Future School Finance Act was a big win for Democrats in the spring – but it ultimately fell flat in November.
Senate Bill 213 — which turned into ballot measure Amendment 66 — sought to overhaul school funding formulas. It also would have brought about full-day kindergarten for all children and would have provided more resources for at-risk youth.
But voters didn’t care for the nearly $1 billion price tag that came with the reforms. They flatly rejected Amendment 66 on Election Day.
Supporters can bring the issue to the ballot a few more times. But what the strategy will be going forward remains to be seen.
Pulling the lever with greater ease
House Bill 1303 overhauled how elections are conducted in the state. It enabled same-day voter registration and requires that ballots be mailed to all voters.Democrats — as well as a bipartisan majority of county clerks across the state — hailed the legislation as a way of modernizing an antiquated system, one that they say will lead to greater participation in the voting process.
But Republicans, including Secretary of State Scott Gessler, warned that same-day voter registration would lead to more cases of voter fraud and that the changes would be costly for individual counties to implement.
After back-to-back defeats in previous sessions, a bill that created civil unions for gay couples finally passed the Legislature and was signed into law in 2013.
The bill passed with bipartisan support in both legislative chambers.
It marked the first year since the bill was introduced two years earlier that it received a vote on the floor of the House. In the two previous sessions, the legislation had been killed by Republican-controlled House committees.
Several gay Democratic lawmakers were instrumental in the bill’s passage. They included House Speaker Mark Ferrandino and Sen. Pat Steadman, both of Denver.
The victory was a bittersweet one for Steadman, whose life partner died of cancer in the fall of 2012.
Finally, after all these years
Ten years after it was first introduced in the Legislature, a bill that aims to help immigrant students attend college in Colorado became law.
Senate Bill 33, which allows undocumented students to attend Colorado colleges and universities at in-state tuition rates, received bipartisan support in both legislative chambers.
The bill requires that students attend a Colorado high school for at least three years. It also requires that students actively seek legal U.S. residency status.
The powerful oil and gas lobby
For the most part, efforts to further regulate oil and gas industry activities failed in the Legislature this year.
Fueled by efforts by several Colorado cities to halt the practice of hydraulic fracking, Democratic lawmakers introduced a package of bills aimed to put in place tighter regulations on oil and gas industry practices.
But those bills — including one that sought to change the mission of the Oil and Gas Commission to a more environmentally-friendly one, and another that sought higher fees on companies that cause toxic spills — failed.
Although those bills died, the calls to seek tighter regulations on oil and gas activities continue. Those efforts gained momentum in November, when voters in Boulder, Fort Collins and Lafayette approved anti-fracking city ordinances.
The death penalty doesn’t part
Colorado’s death penalty remained on the books following this year’s session.
A bill that sought to repeal the death penalty failed to survive a legislative committee in March. But the repeal effort lost steam after Gov. John Hickenlooper hinted that he would veto the legislation.
But Hickenlooper has concerns over capital punishment, as evidenced by his decision in May to grant a temporary reprieve to Nathan Dunlap — a man who was on death row for killing four people at an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant in 1993.
Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em
The General Assembly put in place several pieces of legislation that created regulations for Colorado’s new marijuana industry.
The rules came on the heels of the 2012 voter-approved Amendment 64, which legalized the use and sale of recreational marijuana in Colorado.
Lawmakers created regulations for retail pot shops, including possession limits. The bills also put guidelines in place intended to keep the drug out of the hands of children.
In November, voters overwhelming approved a tax structure for retail pot sales.
Marathon days and crabby moods
Finally, it wouldn’t have been the 2013 legislative session without daily, marathon-like committee hearings and floor votes.
Debate and testimony on polarizing bills often went deep into the night, which led to short fuses on the part of sleep-deprived lawmakers, especially in the final weeks of the session.
Republicans blasted Democrats for trying to push legislation in the final weeks. But some acknowledged privately that they would have done the same thing, had the roles had been reversed.
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