Jan 12, 2022 - News

Colorado lawmakers split on legislative session's top priorities

State Senate President Leroy Garcia speaks on the Capitol steps Monday with Gov. Jared Polis standing behind him. Photo: David Zalubowski/AP

Colorado's General Assembly reconvenes Wednesday with Democrats and Republicans outlining the same priorities: affordability, public safety and education.

"I've never seen a state as laser focused on these three issues … as they are right now," said House Speaker Alec Garnett (D-Denver).

Yes, but: Don't expect kumbaya in the halls of the Capitol.

  • The two parties are outlining competing ways to address the issues.
  • And Gov. Jared Polis is looking to walk between them, carrying a veto pen.

Why it matters: The partisanship and conflicting visions will cement the stakes for 2022's midterm elections, and the policies that advance will set the tone for how the state emerges from the pandemic.

  • This year's session is poised to be one of the most consequential in recent memory with billions in new dollars available to spend from the federal pandemic relief package and the infrastructure bill.

Between the lines: The November election will color the entire 120-day lawmaking term.

  • Republicans will focus on sending messages that will empower parents who fueled wins in local school board races in 2021.
  • Democrats, who control the majority in both of Colorado's legislative chambers, are hoping to avoid hot-button issues and corral rank-and-file lawmakers who are more liberal than party leadership.

What they're saying: "I don't know if I would call it moderating. I would probably say we are more focused and disciplined on what we want to get done this year," Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg (D-Boulder) tells John.

State of play: A dissection of the word play from legislative leaders reveals the division that will mark this session.

When it comes to public safety, Senate President Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo) said his party is pledging to spend $1 billion "to address crime challenges."

  • However, not all the money will go directly to fighting crime, but addressing what lawmakers call the "root causes," including affordable housing and mental health.
  • Republicans want to undo Democratic policies to reduce the prison population, which they believe are driving surging rates.

On the issue of affordability, Democrats plan to use federal relief dollars to fill gaps in the safety net, proposing legislation to incentivize the construction of low-income housing and mandate companies pass along drug rebates to consumers.

  • Republicans plan to put forward bills to cut taxes and curtail new fees put in place by Democratic lawmakers, all to save people money.

Education is a perennial battleground but more heated than ever amid pandemic disruptions to the classroom. House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar (D-Pueblo) said Democrats will spend more on education this session than ever before. But it still won't cover the $571 million debt owed to schools, known as the "negative factor."

  • On the other side, Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert (R-Parker) said the education conversation should focus on what parents need and that's choice. He said the pandemic proved parents want more control over their children's education.

The bottom line: Democrats face the most pressure, as the majority party, to show they are responding to the layered crises in Colorado, from the pandemic to wildfires.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard. Subscribe here.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Denver.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Denver stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Denver.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more