The state of Colorado received a fair bit of national attention during the 2018 midterm elections. Democrats did well in the state, successfully flipping a Republican-held Congressional seat in suburban Denver they had been chasing for the better part of a decade. And Jared Polis became the first openly gay person to be elected as the governor of an American state.
But while the Congressional and gubernatorial elections attracted most of the attention, arguably the most important outcome of the 2018 elections in Colorado came at the legislative level. Democrats won control of the state senate for the first time since 2014. When combined with their existing control of the state house and their hold on the governor’s mansion, Democrats possessed total control of the state government when the 2019 legislative session began.
They have not wasted the opportunity. Democrats entered the session with an ambitious agenda, and while they did not enact all of it, they were able to cross a lot of items off the list by the time the legislative session ended on May 3. It’s an agenda that’s of interest even outside the Centennial State, as it shows what voters can expect if they hand control of their state governments to the Democratic Party.
Climate Change Legislation
While running for governor, then-Congressman Jared Polis made green energy an important part of his platform. He pledged an ambitious program for addressing climate change at the state level.
The legislature came through, joining a wave of other blue states in passing important climate legislation. The state passed legislation committing the state to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and 90 percent by 2050.
The legislature also passed a number of other bills related to clean energy policy, including legislation on electric vehicles, building emissions and utility regulations.
The most emotionally resonant bill passed by the Colorado legislature during the 2019 session was undoubtedly the state’s so-called red flag law, which is designed to remove guns from the hands of dangerous individuals.
Colorado has been the scene of many tragic mass shooting events going back to the late 1990’s, a fact that spurred legislators to act. Under the state’s new red flag law, police can remove guns from the possession of an individual if a relative or other associate believes the individual puts himself or others at risk of harm. A hearing on the question must be held within 14 days of the confiscation.
The red flag law has significant symbolic value as well. Democrats also pushed through gun control legislation in 2013 when they possessed full control of the state government. Republicans responded by organizing successful recall elections against several Democratic state senators, re-enforcing the idea that gun control was a third rail in Colorado politics.
Many activists feared that Democrats would over-learn the lessons of the 2013 recalls and avoid gun control legislation altogether. Democratic legislators proved those fears were misplaced.
Colorado’s strong economy is driven in large part by a young, educated workforce. But the state’s educational system often receives low marks, especially on metrics of government support for schools.
The state legislature moved to address one of the longest-running irritations in the Colorado school system – the lack of free, all-day kindergarten. While some wealthier districts opted to fund such programs on their own, poorer, rural districts could not afford all-day kindergarten, exacerbating an already intense urban-rural divide in Colorado. This hole in the system has left tens of thousands of Colorado parents struggling to meet their children’s early education needs.
In a rare piece of bi-partisan legislating, Republicans and Democrats in the legislature agreed to fund free, full-day kindergarten throughout the state for parents who want to take advantage. The legislation – which passed the state senate unanimously – also bans school districts from charging tuition for kindergarten.
Oil and Gas Legislation
While Colorado Democrats had a good day at the polls in the 2018 midterms, a handful of ballot initiatives supported by the state’s progressives were rejected by voters. One of them would have imposed a mandatory setback for new oil and gas wells – organized and well-funded opposition succeeded in defeating the initiative in 2018.
Democrats in the state legislature responded by passing new legislation providing local governments with more control over regulation of oil and gas wells. The controversial bill – SB 181 – gives local governments a say in where new oil and gas wells will be located. This is a boon to progressive areas of the state, such as Boulder County, where local officials had been frustrated in their attempts to regulate the oil and gas industry by existing state law.
In addition, SB 181 directs the state to hire new regulators with expertise in public health and the environment. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Committee will be tasked with writing new regulations with an eye toward public safety.
Thanks largely to legislation passed by Democrats in 2013, Colorado already had one of the best voting systems in the country – the state ranked second in the nation in voter turnout in the 2018 midterms. However, Democrats in the legislature still moved to improve ballot access in the 2019 legislative session.
Democrats passed HB-1278, a bill adding polling centers and drop boxes across the state, especially on college campuses and in areas of the state with high minority populations. Colorado has a successful vote-by-mail system, but many voters elect to either drop off their ballots or vote in the traditional fashion at a brick-and-mortar polling place.
Democrats also passed a bill expanding the state’s existing automatic voter registration system. Under the bill, anyone who applies for a driver’s license – new or renewed – will receive a postcard from their county clerk notifying them that they are registered to vote at that address. People applying for Medicaid will go through a similar process.
Voters will then have 20 days to determine if they wish to accept or reject the registration.
As of May 17, both election bills were awaiting Governor Polis’ signature.