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May 12, 2022 07:28 AM UTC

PNC's Winners and Losers of the 2022 Colorado legislative session

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  • by: ProgressNow Colorado

THE WINNERS

Bodily Autonomy

With abortion rights facing their greatest peril ever, Colorado lawmakers rose to the occasion to codify essential abortion rights protections into Colorado statute ahead of the possible repeal of Roe v. Wade later this year. The Reproductive Health Equity Act will ensure that Colorado remains a haven for abortion care no matter what happens at the federal level, and Colorado voters are energized to protect abortion rights while punishing the right for endangering them. Reps. Meg Froelich and Daneya Esgar in the House and Sen. Julie Gonzales were the prime sponsors.


Coloradans with (or in need of) a roof over their head

Taking advantage of a windfall of federal relief funds, 2022 will be remembered as a year when Colorado finally started to take the decades-old problem of housing affordability seriously. Legislation passed this year allocates an historic $400 million in federal relief funds for innovative affordable housing construction, first-time homebuyer assistance, and help for renters and those struggling to find any kind of housing in today’s market. Reps. Dylan Roberts and Mary Bradfield as well as Sens. James Coleman and Julie Gonzales worked together to establish new grants worth over $140 million in the first year to help make affordable housing in Colorado a reality instead of a far-off talking point.


Coloradans with wallets (or purses or pockets)

Colorado leaders went into 2022 with a goal of saving regular people money. We still need revenue to pay for all the important things that government does, but short-term relief from certain fees and taxes will give Colorado’s economy a boost while we still need it recovering from the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Coloradans who breathe

Faced with tightening federal requirements and a worsening situation each summer, Colorado lawmakers took action to reduce air pollution and (hopefully) bring the state back into compliance with federal air pollution regulations. In particular, Senate Bill 22-180 will create an “ozone season transit program” to encourage use of public transit including free bus and train service during the peak of ozone pollution season. Reps. Chris Kennedy, Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, and Sen. Julie Gonzales scored a big win at the closing bell of the session with legislation to crack down on toxic air contaminants.


Colorado students

Colorado schools are receiving a major 11.7% boost in desperately-needed funding this year, with the budget set to spend $7.2 billion on K-12 education–$5 billion of that going directly to school districts. Despite this major and welcome increase in funding, Colorado still isn’t keeping the promise made in the state’s constitution to increase education funding annually by population and inflation. But it’s a big step in the right direction. In particular, Rep. Julie McCluskie stood out as a tireless advocate for Colorado schools, sponsoring and helping craft many of the most important education bills of the session. Rep. Barbara McLachlan in the House and Sen. Rachel Zenzinger played major roles in increasing education funds this year.


Public safety

In 2022, Colorado’s progressive majority lawmakers worked on smart solutions for public safety that are responsive to community needs without rolling back major criminal justice and police accountability reforms that have made Colorado a model. In February, Gov. Jared Polis and lawmakers unveiled a comprehensive $113 million public safety plan utilizing federal relief funds, adding resources to all areas of law enforcement from the Colorado Bureau of Investigations to Denver’s innovative program for responding to minor incidents with social workers and mental health professionals instead of armed officers. The first bill on the calendar for the Colorado Senate this year, Senate Bill 1, was the “Safer Streets” grant program sponsored by Rep. Naquetta Ricks and Kerry Tipper along with Sens. Janet Buckner and Rick Hinrichsen, gives local governments new resources to solve design and management problems that lead to crime-prone areas.


Neighborhood nonprofits

Small neighborhood and community-based nonprofit organizations are where some of the most good in our society takes place every day–often without recognition and struggling for funding. Senate Bill 22-1356 creates a new grant program to fund small nonprofits for capacity building, fundraising, communications, and development. One of them might incubate the next world-changing solution.


Cyclists

It’s called an “Idaho stop,” and it could make life easier for bicyclists across Colorado by allowing them under safe conditions to treat a stop sign like a yield sign. Gov. Polis signed the new law allowing the practice earlier in the year. Stop lights are still binding, of course!


Black Democratic Legislative Caucus

Colorado’s Black Democratic Legislative Caucus has matured into a powerful and often decisive bloc of lawmakers who are determined to not just fight the good fight for justice and equity, but win it. Rep. Leslie Herod’s leadership during the debate over controversial legislation to crack down on fentanyl was crucial in reducing the harm and focusing on treatment over punishment. Rep. Naquetta Ricks won a major victory over predatory towing companies that have long plagued working class communities. Rep. Ricks and Sen. Janet Buckner passed legislation directing millions to new behavioral health initiatives.


Federal candidates serving in the legislature

Even though candidates for higher office serving in the Colorado General Assembly face obstacles to campaigning and fundraising during the legislative session, service in the legislature can still be a useful springboard by showcasing a candidate’s leadership abilities–or, failing that, making headlines any way they can. Rep. Yadira Caraveo and Sen. Brittany Pettersen, both candidates for Congress in the upcoming elections, exemplified the former approach with successful legislative agendas, while far-right Reps. Dave Williams and Ron Hanks kept themselves in the news consistently with election conspiracy theories and other red meat for the GOP base–a winning formula for the Republican base even if it all comes apart by November.


Gov. Jared Polis

Gov. Jared Polis’ enduring popularity after three of the most tumultuous years in Colorado’s history are a testament to his keen political instincts and essential progressive values. Gov. Polis’ management style during the legislative session is more hands-on than previous administrations, which although resulting in some disagreements helps clearly communicate priorities between the branches and ensure the best possible outcome. While Gov. Polis doesn’t always make the choice progressives agree with, all sides have learned to respect Polis’ frank honesty and decisive leadership in the toughest of circumstances.


THE LOSERS

Election Conspiracy Theorists

2022 was another year of bogus conspiracy theories insisting that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election slamming into the brick wall of reality–meaning a lot like 2021. Every Republican in the Colorado House voted for an amendment to allow county clerks to steal election data like Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters faces felony charges for committing. Far-right Republican lawmakers led by MAGA movement candidates Reps. Dave Williams and Ron Hanks pushed legislation to do away with Colorado’s mail ballot system, restrict or eliminate early voting, and numerous other election-related bills that served no purpose other than to suppress lawful votes–all of which were thankfully defeated. Colorado’s elections are safe and secure, and that means safe from the party of Donald Trump after passage of new election internal security protections.


Anti-vaxxers

Despite the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic which has killed over one million Americans, Colorado conservatives continued to pander to the most extreme voices in the debate over public health policy. Bills that would have weakened Colorado’s ability to respond to public health emergencies, promoted unproven “quack” treatments for COVID-19, and “liberated” Coloradans from not just COVID-19 vaccines but vaccination requirements of all kinds were all defeated by the state’s progressive majority in the legislature. It’s another example of how unthinkable policies are, despite all the gains we’ve made in Colorado, only one election away from disaster.


Catalytic converter thieves

Like most of the country, Colorado has seen a large spike in costly thefts of automotive catalytic converters, which thieves then sell to metal scrap dealers for their valuable contents. As one of the last bills passed in 2022, Senate Bill 22-009 expands on existing law to require that scrap dealers keep records of catalytic converter scrap purchases like other “commodity metals.”


“TABOR Trolls”

Colorado has an unusual and controversial provision passed by voters in 1992 that imposes strict artificial limits on spending and revenue growth. In years where the state enjoys a “surplus” under the TABOR formula, the state is required to send out refund checks. This year, progressives in the legislature made the most of this situation by sending big equal-sized checks to all taxpayers, greatly benefiting those in lower income brackets. The right seethed at this “election year gimmick,” but Main Street Coloradans will be grateful for the extra cash this fall. Sens. Nick Hinrichsen and Robert Rodriguez were the prime Senate sponsors of this relief measure, along with Reps. Tony Exum and Lindsey Daugherty in the House.


Sleep schedules and personal lives

During debate over legislation codifying abortion rights this year, Republicans in the legislature took every possible action to stall debate, forcing legislators to stay at the Capitol all night and in some cases sleep in their cars and offices awaiting votes. Republicans then took advantage of a pile-up of important bills at the very end of the legislative session to unleash a flurry of last-minute obstruction tactics that forced majority Democrats to bargain with the minority over what bills would be allowed to get through. Some call it political hardball, others call it political hostage-taking. Either way, it was unpleasant for everyone who had to remain on duty through all the late-night hours of pointless obstruction.


Heidi Ganahl

After years of defeats at the polls, Heidi Ganahl is the only remaining statewide elected official in Colorado, serving as University of Colorado Regent At-Large. Ganahl was forced to respond to events from the Capitol while she was struggling to gain any sort of traction. During the 2022 legislative session as Ganahl attempted to launch and re-launch her struggling campaign for governor, Ganahl repeatedly took the wrong side of headline-making issues like abortion rights and drug policy. Ganahl’s messy intervention into the abortion rights debate, calling herself “pro life” but hedging on questions about how far she would actually go to ban abortion might have sounded good for the primary but will have consequences in the next few months if she can still manage to win the nomination. Ganahl left herself with fewer friends on either side of the issue while clearly signaling to Colorado’s pro-abortion rights majority that she is not an ally.


John Kellner

A district attorney running for Attorney General in the 2022 midterm elections, John Kellner tried hard and failed to insert himself into debate over legislation to combat the rise of fentanyl use. Kellner’s insistence on a “zero tolerance” felony charge for even unknowing possession of the tiniest amounts of fentanyl rang hollow against the testimony of public health and drug policy experts who say felonization of people suffering from drug addiction is the wrong policy. In the end, the legislation preserved a misdemeanor charge for simple possession while cracking down on distribution of the deadly drug.


House Minority Leader Hugh McKean

Taking over leadership of the Colorado House Republican Minority after his predecessor helped shrink the caucus to its smallest number in decades, Hugh McKean was heralded as “The Craftsman” for his supposed ability to bring his fractious caucus together. Two years and two near physical altercations later, it’s safe to say that Hugh McKean has never managed to gain control of his caucus enough to provide it with strategic direction. In 2021, Rep. Ron Hanks threatened to break McKean’s neck over a policy disagreement, and this year McKean got into an infamous “belly bumping” match with fellow Republican Rep. Shane Sandridge. As a result of McKean’s weakness, his predecessors’ allies at Rocky Mountain Gun Owners have rewarded him with a tough primary that McKean may well lose–and either way it’s very unlikely McKean will be in House leadership in 2023.


Rep. Shane Sandridge

Finally, there is outgoing Rep. Shane Sandridge of Colorado Springs who scored a win for ethical consistency and then lost everything for it. Rep. Sandridge, a normally rock-ribbed conservative lawmaker who is a reliable right-wing vote on most issues, broke with fellow Republicans in defense of 2019 legislation he helped pass making simple possession of small amounts of most narcotic drugs a misdemeanor offense instead of a felony. During the “moral panic” that dominated debate over legislation to crack down on the particularly dangerous opioid drug fentanyl, Sandridge eloquently argued along with many Democrats that the 2019 policy was correct and the focus should be on punishing drug traffickers and not addicts. Sandridge’s powerful defense of policy that was at that moment being used as a political sledgehammer against Democrats further alienated him from fellow Republicans, and played a role in Sandridge’s decision to not seek re-election.


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