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Colorado Democrat, Republican leaders share priorities for 2024 legislative session

Colorado Democrat and Republican leaders share priorities for 2024 legislative session
Posted at 9:40 PM, Jan 03, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-04 00:25:17-05

DENVER — The 2024 Colorado legislative session starts next week. Denver7 spoke with both Republican and Democrat leadership to learn more about their priorities for the future while reflecting on last year.

Democrats

House Majority Leader Monica Duran and Senate Majority Leader Robert Rodriguez both agreed housing will once again be a priority for Democrats in 2024. Last session, the massive land use bill that targeted affordable housing failed.

"When we think about Senate Bill 213 from last year, it was a pretty huge bill that came through at the end of session," Duran said."Coming from a local background, local government background, I had a lot of concerns about that. But what I'm really excited about this session is that it's been broken up into, you know, could be three, four, or five different buckets, which is really important because I think it'll address each issue individually.”

Duran said since last session, there has been input from local municipalities on the legislation surrounding housing policy, allowing their voices to be part of the solutions.

"I know conversations or bills will be coming around ADUs (accessory dwelling units), will be coming around how to put transit around housing development for those to be able to access places, to get to work, you need to go to the doctor, whatever you might need to do," Duran said.

Expanding renters' access and rights is an important part of the equation too, Duran said, but she does not know of any specific legislation on the subject just yet.

In addition to housing, Duran said transit, education, economic justice, quality and affordable mental and physical health care, climate change, environmental justice and public safety are top priorities for Colorado Democrats.

“Also expanding and continuing on with the Zero Fare for Better Air initiative, with the two-month thing we did for the RTD and the bus system that I think is looking to expand on that. Also possibly, a very popular program is the tax credits for buying electric bicycles and vehicles," said Rodriguez about other potential legislation Coloradans may see in 2024. “I think every year that you'll see some environmental bills. We have a lot of people that are very invested in the environmental community."

Over a decade ago, the Budget Stabilization Factor was created "in the school finance formula due to the Great Recession and economic downturn that put pressure on the state’s budget. The factor is a state budget tool that proportionally reduces the amount of total funding for each school district. The factor reduces state aid to districts."

Duran and Rodriguez said this year will mark a huge milestone in the Budget Stabilization Factor.

“One of the big ones that we're excited about, that's been going on longer than I've been in the legislature... is paying off the Budget Stabilization Factor for education," said Rodriguez. "Well, it's not going to solve everything. Obviously, it's a big hole that we've been trying to fill for years... and we're finally going to get to pay that off. That's going to help secure more money to students in schools and teachers trying to provide for them, because as you know, our funding for education is one of the lowest in the country."

Duran plans to sponsor a piece of legislation she has been working on since 2019 that aims to standardize the testing around concealed carry, but she is not aware of last year's failed assault rifle ban bill coming back in 2024.

“How can we curtail gun violence? And what can we do, not only at the state level but in the community level," said Duran.

Denver7 asked about apparent turmoil in the current political climate for Colorado Democrats, following the resignation of former State Representatives Said Sharbini and Ruby Dickson, who both used the word "vitriol" when describing the conditions at the Capitol. Over the summer, Rep. Elisabeth Epps and Rep. Robert Marshall filed a lawsuit against the Colorado House of Representatives, claiming "pervasive violations" of the Colorado open meetings law. The lawsuit was settled, but the two no longer serve on the House Judiciary Committee.

“We have challenges every session that I have been here, in the six years I've been here. But I like to look at what we have accomplished and what we have done," said Duran. “Despite some of the challenges that we have, and whatever personal decisions that members have made to either continue as legislators or maybe to go out on their own and spread their wings in a different way, I respect and value their decisions that they've made. My focus, this coming session, is to make sure we're successful in the policies and the promises we have made to our constituents."

Republicans

Speaking from Colorado Springs, Assistant Minority Leader Rose Pugliese said the high cost of living in Colorado is top of mind for her and her fellow Republicans.

"The increasing costs on our constituents is still an issue that everybody's talking about. Property tax bills will be coming out, those will still be incredibly high across the state, and people are just suffering under the weight of high inflation," Pugliese said. “There will be bills coming forward that would propose reducing the income tax rate, which the governor has supported in the past and seems to continue to support. And hopefully, we'll have the support of Democrats on that bill. Then obviously, there will be something on property tax for the long-term and sustainable solution. The Property Tax Task Force continues to do their work, and we'll see what comes forward from that task force.”

Pugliese believes the 2024 session could set an example in bipartisan politics.

“I've had some very constructive conversations throughout the post-session. And I'm really hoping that there's an opportunity for us to all work together on the issues that actually matter to the people of Colorado and affect all Coloradans, like affordability," Pugliese said. “What I hope is that we'll be able to put aside the partisanship of politics, and really put the people first in a way that I did not see last session."

Since the 2023 session wrapped, Pugliese said several Democrats have reached out to discuss ideas for legislation, especially around housing.

“Regardless of whether in the end I or my caucus decided to support those bills, I think it's important that Democrats have been reaching out. They've been reaching across the aisle to many of our caucus, if not all of our caucus members to bring forward ideas. And we are very willing to work with them on the ideas that we believe will help Coloradans," said Pugliese. “Finding more balance and restoring balance to Colorado is incredibly important as we're having these conversations, and making sure that people's interests are truly being represented in a bipartisan way.”

Denver7 asked how the smaller caucus, filled with a wide range of viewpoints, can unite to form a cohesive message when Democrats hold a supermajority.

“We will continue to have the conversations and continue to put our constituents first. I think our values are the same. Sometimes the way we approach it is a little bit different, depending on our constituencies and the needs of our constituencies," said Pugliese. “As a caucus, we are strong and united. And we will continue this session being strong and united.”

As many Republicans, like Colorado GOP Chairman Dave Williams, continue to claim Colorado does not have a trustworthy election system, Pugliese said she believes the system is safe and secure.

“I don't think there's anything wrong with asking the questions. But I think we also need to make sure that we know that we support our clerks and that we trust that they are doing the job that they were elected to do to protect the people of Colorado," said Pugliese. "I do hope that people will come out and use that system. I think it's incredibly important. Obviously, we saw great victory on Proposition HH this last election cycle, and the election of some great candidates statewide."

With a presidential election in 2024, Denver7 asked Pugliese if she believes this Colorado legislative session will be more about passing laws or showing voters what Republicans and Democrats represent.

"I'm a policy geek. I will say it all the time. I just want good policy to come forward. And so, I do hope that we bring our principles forward through our legislation and bringing forward legislation that really does have positive impacts on the lives of the people that we serve," said Pugliese.

The 2024 Colorado legislative session begins next week.


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