DENVER — Wednesday marked the start of the 2022 legislative session at the Colorado state Capitol. Normally, the opening day is full of pomp and circumstance along with a little fun.
While many of those opening day traditions continued this year, the tone of the session started off much more serious this time around.
The opening day speeches from Republicans and Democrats painted very different pictures of the progress that was made last session, and the work that’s ahead.
In his speech, House Speaker Alex Garnett, D-Denver, started by touting the successes of last year with investments in education, prescription drug affordability and more.
This time around, Garnett promised to build on that work and to shift the focus to helping cut costs for families.
“My top priority is to save Coloradans money. The people of Colorado deserve to do more than just get by. That’s why we have a plan for them to do better,” he said.
Democrats laid out some of their legislative priorities during a press conference on Monday along with the governor. They include funding for education, public safety, affordable housing, cutting costs and healthcare.
The Democrats also promised to revisit some fees to find ways to save families money. However, Garnett was clear in his speech that he does not want to undo the work lawmakers completed last session, particularly in areas like criminal justice reform.
“We will not go back to the failed policies of the past that overpopulated our prisons, wasted taxpayer dollars, and left us with high recidivism and not nearly enough rehabilitation,” he said.
Garnett rounded out his speech by calling for both sides of the aisle to put politics aside to work together.
“If you are not engaged in working on policy solutions, you are wasting the people’s time. We were not elected to bicker or squabble. We were elected to govern and lead,” he said.
Republicans, meanwhile, struck a very different tone in their speeches, lambasting many of the policies that were passed in the previous session and saying they believe that Coloradans are worse off today than they were a year ago as a result.
“We have failed to truly make it better. Instead, most of the last legislative session was spent passing bills that increased taxes and fees and made life more expensive for the very people we are trying to help,” said Rep. Hugh McKean, the Republican House Minority Leader.
McKean described the state of the state as not good, saying people are paying more while education is suffering and crime rates are rising.
“My tone today was the angst and the frustration that I'm hearing from people in Colorado,” said McKean.
In a press conference afterward, Republicans continued with that critical tone, accusing the Democrats of copying platforms and reversing course on legislation they just passed last session.
“It is disingenuous for you to enact lead legislation to increase costs one year and then just a few months later to propose delaying implementation of your expensive policies,” said Sen. Chris Holbert, the Republican Senate Minority Leader.
During that press conference, Republicans unveiled 44 bills they are introducing this session ranging from affordability to policing to educational choice.
McKean considers this a litmus test for the midterm elections.
Democrats, however, pushed back on the Republican criticisms, saying they have tried to work across the aisle on many policies but aren’t receiving the same effort from their counterparts.
“The Republicans are springing all of this on us today and have done nothing to try to bring Democrats on board or tried to bring those ideas together,” said Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood.
While the policy priorities seem to line up in some areas, Kennedy says they are very different from one another, particularly when it comes to education.
“They're wildly different platforms. Democrats have been fighting to increase funding for K-12 and higher education for years and years,” he said. “What they're talking about is voucher programs to take money out of our public schools to put into private schools. It just doesn't add up.”
Under all of these tones, a reminder that the midterm elections are right around the corner and the policies passes this session will inevitably affect that election and both Democrats and Republicans get to work to push for their priorities.