Traditionally, opening day of the Colorado Legislature is filled with speeches, handshakes and back slapping between state lawmakers, all vowing to maintain a bipartisan spirit throughout the annual 120-day session that kicked off Wednesday.
But a decision by Republicans who took a slim majority in the Colorado House to change names of several committees took some of the air out of their bipartisan balloon when Democrats immediately complained.
Before those speeches even took place, four Democrats went to the podium one by one to complain about the Republicans’ decision to take the words energy, human services and labor out of the transportation, health and business affairs committees, respectively.
The Democrats said the changes send a message to voters that those things aren’t important, adding that newly named House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, made matters worse when she disrespected their concerns. To each, she repeated the same thing:
“As in past history, we’ve had committee name changes,” she said on the floor of the House. “We changed committee names for efficiency. We’re here to do the work of the people, and I would suggest that we do so today.”
That response raised the ire of several Democrats, some of whom called it disrespectful and demeaning.
“Are we saying we’re only concerned about the business side of it and not the labor side,” asked Rep. John Soper, D-Thornton. “Where are those bills going to go? Are we not going to discuss labor? In order to have good business, you need good workers.”
Republicans, however, called it much ado about nothing, saying such issues will be discussed.
“We’re going to have energy in ag (committee). They know that, so I don’t know why they’re making such a big deal out of it,” said Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction. “The bills will move appropriately to the right spot. It’s a little grandstanding.”
Despite all of the talk about bipartisanship in the day’s speeches, Republicans applauded when GOP ideas were hawked by Republican leaders, and Democrats did the same for theirs.
During his speech, House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, said the Legislature won’t deal with a $1 billion budget shortfall the way it was in years when Democrats controlled the chamber.
“On this, let me be clear,” McNulty said. “The days of balancing the budget on the backs of working families and small businesses are over. We cannot treat the state budget differently than families across Colorado treat their own budgets.”
That comment drew a standing ovation from the Republican side of the House, while crickets chirped on the Democratic side.
The same thing happened when House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, delivered his message.
“To neglect programs or slash services without method, to penalize hardworking state workers and teachers to score political points, to demonize people because of their skin color or national origins, and to balance our budget on the backs of the poor, the elderly, the sick and the young, these are not acceptable solutions to the people of Colorado,” he said.
Lawmakers introduced 95 bills on the first day of the session, but only about a dozen of them deal with jobs, the economy or the state’s budget.
They include a measure introduced by Scott to allow homeowners to sell their properties by financing them themselves, and another one by Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, to create a rainy-day fund. Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, also introduced a bill to bar the Legislature from using severance tax and federal mineral lease funds from being used for anything other then their intended purpose: to fund local government projects.
Other measures, however, deal with such things as barring rodeo participants from pulling the tails of cows, allowing the “honor and remember” flag to be flown along with other flags on state property, and letting unaffiliated voters cast ballots in primary elections without joining a political party.