House Speaker Crisanta Duran, left, hands the gavel to incoming Speaker KC Becker on the first day of the 72nd General Assembly on January 4, 2019, in Denver. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The 72nd General Assembly, with Democrats at the helm of the House and Senate, convened Friday for the 120-day lawmaking term.

The new Democratic leaders in each chamber — House Speaker KC Becker and Senate President Leroy Garcia — gave opening-day remarks that outlined their visions for the 2019 session and the party’s legislative agenda.

Becker made clear that Democrats would push strongly on a number of issues, and House GOP leader Patrick Neville offered his own strongly worded rebuke in his remarks.

Here’s a transcript of Becker’s speech — lightly edited for length — with annotations from The Colorado Sun highlighting what’s important and explaining what it all means.

MORE: Read the annotated text of new Colorado Senate President Leroy Garcia’s opening speech.

Good morning and welcome to your state capitol. It is one my greatest honors to stand before you today. I want to thank the constituents of my district which stretches from the Wyoming border in the north, to Mount Evans in the south– from Boulder to Kremmling – from Jackson, Grand, and Gilpin counties to Clear Creek and Boulder counties. It’s an honor to represent you. …

I look around this chamber and see many new faces and a lot more Democrats. I’d like to welcome our first years and returning legislators. No matter your party, we are all here because we want Coloradans to succeed. Running for office or stepping forward to participate in public service is never easy.

Democrats in the House hold 41 of the 65 seats, the largest margin in 60 years. Republicans  hold 24 seats in the chamber. The advantage gives Democrats three-vote majorities on all the House committees.

So on behalf of this chamber and our state, I extend thanks to you and your families and friends who have agreed to let us borrow you for the next two years. Your support is key to our success.

Together, we are driven to build a fair economy that expands opportunity for all, to invest in our future, and to protect the Colorado way of life. Today, we open the first regular session of the 72nd General Assembly.

The legislative terms are two years long. But bills and resolutions proposed in one year do not carry over to the next, meaning they need to be reintroduced in 2020 when lawmakers return.

Members, pack your energy and ideas with you every day because you are about to have some of the longest days wrapped into the shortest four months you’ll ever know. Your patience will be tested, your sleep will shorten, your family will miss you and your waistline may grow. But believe me the future is worth the fight and your efforts are worthwhile.

This year, Coloradans made history by electing the first Jewish and openly gay governor. We made history by electing a record number of people of color to our state legislature. And we made history by electing 33 women — a majority — to the House including 25 in the Democratic caucus alone and the first transgender representative in state “Herstory.”

The Democratic Party swept the 2018 election, winning all major statewide contests and both chambers, giving them complete control of Colorado government for the first time since 1936, as The Sun reported exclusively on election night. Here’s more details about of all of the historical firsts from the election, including Rep. Brianna Titone, the states first transgender lawmaker.

Whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat or unaffiliated voter, I think we can all agree that this chamber is sending a strong message that when people participate in democracy, their government is more reflective of their state’s diverse background and ideas.   

It is our shared hope that the number of women and people of color who were motivated to step forward and run for office will inspire the next generation of Coloradans to pursue public service and become more involved. I am honored to accept this gavel and look forward to working with you all. … 

It is not lost on me that I am the third consecutive woman to serve as Speaker and the fourth in our state’s rich history. Standing before you today, I know I won’t be the last. I would be remiss if I did not thank those who have blazed a trail ahead of us.

The prior two House speakers were also Democrats, Crisanta Duran of Denver and Dickey Lee Hullinghorst of Boulder. The first woman to hold the gavel was Republican Lola Spradley in the 2003-04 term.

One of the things I’m most grateful that my parents decided to let me spend my summers as a teenager in the Rockies. I was a Florida girl discovering the vast and transformative place that is the West. Until then I had never seen mountains. I had never seen snow. Actually, it was hailing when I screamed, “Oh my god snow,” and my now lifelong friend who lived in Denver turned to me with a smirk on her face and said “you dummy, it’s hail.”

Becker is not a native, and neither are most residents in the state. Since 2010, the state’s population has increased 13 percent, to 5.7 million, according to July census figures.

I truly fell in love with the West and feel lucky to call Colorado home. My husband Miles and I have built our lives and family in Boulder. And I’m thankful for the love and support of Miles and our two boys – Leo and Ryder.

11 years ago, Leo had just been born, he was 7 weeks old when the market tanked and I was laid off from my job. I think about how much has changed in those 11 years. I certainly had no idea that I was going to run for local office then and that I would end up standing here as the speaker. …

Becker started her legislative career by being appointed through a vacancy committee, making her one of more than a dozen in the chamber in 2019 who weren’t first elected at the ballot box, a Sun investigation found.

MORE: A citizen’s guide to the Colorado Capitol: What to know about how to make your voice heard.

Each year brings new issues to us at the Capitol. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. We’ve gone from a deep recession over the years to a thriving state. But the advantages of Colorado’s growth and economic prosperity of the last 5 or 6 years hasn’t been felt by every corner of our state.

Unemployment statewide is low and the President might be tweeting about the market – at least when it’s up – but many of our neighbors still find it hard to get ahead and they struggle with the rising cost of living.

The speaker mentioned national politics three times in the speech but never uttered President Donald Trump’s name. House Democrats won’t be shy this session in offering a counter-narrative to the White House and Republican leaders in Washington, D.C.

Hardworking families are trying to save for years down the road or even just the coming month. And they are often one tragedy or paycheck away from financial distress.

That means we need to give them the tools they need to get ahead. Last session, we passed bills to help Coloradans with the high cost of child care, increase the construction of affordable housing, and connect more Coloradans to the good, high-paying jobs our economy is now producing in great numbers.

But it’s not enough. We are a state built on the value that people who work hard and they should be treated fairly. That means finally passing paid family leave because no one should have to risk financial ruin – or lose their job –  to care for a new child or sick relative.

Democrats want to mandate that most businesses offer paid time off to workers in the cases of illness or family reasons, such as maternity leave.

In his remarks, House GOP leader Neville of Castle Rock said Republicans will oppose it, calling it “an expensive and involuntary family-leave program that will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and one that is ripe for abuse and damaging to business.”

It also means that women and people of color should be paid equally for equal work. We are committed to fighting for every Coloradan to be treated with the dignity, fairness and the respect they deserve.

This is one of dozens of bills that the Democratic majority in the House approved in the prior session but died in the Republican-led state Senate. Here’s a look at all the bills that met a similar fate and what it means for the session.

Despite significant efforts from legislators on both sides of the aisle, the rural-urban divide continues to be a challenge. While Colorado’s economy is working for some, it’s not working for everyone in rural communities and the legislature must do more to ensure that our successes touches all parts of our state.

That means taking steps in rural Colorado to reduce the cost of health care and kick starting more economic development to get more people into good paying jobs.

Gov.-elect Jared Polis, a Democrat, made this a priority in his campaign, and House leaders suggest he will drive much of the agenda this year. “I know Gov. Polis is laser focused on this, so it’s going to be a big part of this session,” Becker said at an event Thursday.

We must keep building on the bipartisan successes of workforce development programs in communities across the state.

Access to affordable housing continues to be out of reach for many people. That means we need to invest state dollars in our affordable housing trust fund. It is my hope and the hope of many in this chamber that we work together to problem solve and expand opportunity.

A report by the Bell Policy Center, a liberal think tank, shows that Colorado is one of 10 states that established an affording housing fund but didn’t dedicate a consistent funding stream. Most states use real estate transfer taxes or document-filing fees, but Colorado’s transfer tax, at 0.01 percent, is the lowest in the nation, the report found.

We are also committed to protecting the Colorado way of life, and I cannot think of a more important challenge for us to take on than climate change. Climate change is real. It’s threatening our thriving outdoor economy and our livelihoods.

In a recent interview with The Sun, Becker named climate change as her top personal priority this year. For more details on how lawmakers will approach the issue, read our story here.

Skiers are seeing smaller snow packs. Rafters are seeing smaller rapids. Anglers are seeing shallower waters. Mountain residents are seeing more frequent and more destructive wildfires. And our eastern plains are seeing more drought.

And unfortunately, Washington has once again chosen to bury its head in the sand while states and the rest of the world work to address the threat of climate change.

We will build a better future by expanding our commitment to renewable energy, giving local communities the tools they need to prepare for the impacts of climate change and creating strong goals to limit carbon pollution.

Our recent economic success shows that we can work together to protect our clean air and water and grow our economy at the same time. It is also a point of pride for our state that the leading solutions and studies to this challenge are coming from Colorado’s institutions of higher education and innovative entrepreneurs in Colorado.

We need to continue Colorado’s climate leadership for the sake of our economy, public health and clean air. Colorado’s way of life is also threatened by the growing conflict between neighborhoods and oil and gas. Our state has grown and schools and neighborhoods are butting up against oil and gas operations. It’s time we update our laws to reflect this new paradigm.

Becker, an environmental lawyer, pushing for aggressive new regulations of oil and gas. And her speech came as anti-industry demonstrators outside the Capitol demanded a moratorium on new drilling permits.

She wants the state to prioritize health-and-safety impacts and empower local communities to have more control. But Neville countered in his speech afterward that Republicans would decry such an effort.

That means, we must ensure communities feel more confident that the oil and gas happening nearby isn’t negatively impacting their air or water quality and their quality of life.

Colorado’s way of life is precious. It’s part of the reason people live, work, play and move here like I did so many years ago. As we think about the Colorado way of life we must also think about investing in our future.

Many of our educators are having to work multiple jobs just to pay their own bills, and many students have never had the experience of being in a fully funded school system.

This is a reference to the so-called negative factor, the roughly $670 million that the state owes schools for not fully meeting obligations in prior years. Democrats want to lower that figure — as well as find money to pay for full-day kindergarten and preschool statewide.

We have recently passed bipartisan state budgets that invested hundreds of millions of new dollars into our schools, we boosted per-pupil funding and made commitments to address the teacher shortage, and brought down the negative factor.

But, if we intend to leave our state in a better position than we found it, we must do more. We need to give our students, teachers and schools the tools they need to succeed. That means we must continue to invest in early childhood education, K-12 and higher ed.

Much of the attention is on K-12 education, but Becker is the voice advocating for the state’s colleges and universities. The University of Colorado at Boulder receives only 5 percent of its funding from the state — other institutions such as Colorado State University are higher, at 10 percent — and Becker says that must be higher to improve the campuses.

And it means we should make sure our students are well prepared for the jobs of the future in a modernizing economy.

Coloradans are tired over the lack of investment in roads, bridges, and transit. That means coming up with creative and collaborative solutions to our transportation problems.

It’s no coincidence that this line lacks any plan to make it happen. Colorado voters rejected competing ballot measures in 2018 on how to find more money for roads, and lawmakers have been unable to find common ground on the issue for years now. The money needed for the state’s transportation system is estimated at roughly $9 billion.

Coloradans — no matter their political affiliation or ZIP code — are fed up with high cost of health care and out of control prescription drug prices. We hear from Coloradans nearly every day about their struggles with health care. We share the concerns of families and seniors across our state who agonize over access and rising costs. In the absence of federal leadership in Washington, we at the capitol must address this challenge head on.

That means, we must work together to address skyrocketing health care costs by promoting transparency in insurance, drug pricing and medical expenses. And it also means we must tackle surprise billing and help provide more stability to our health insurance markets.

One area where Democrats and Republicans may find common ground is the need for more consumer transparency on health-care costs and billing. At least, to a point.

In his remarks, the House GOP leader said, “We must ensure transparent pricing, more consumer choice and voluntary participation — it’s not fair or compassionate when people are hurt by politicians who promise progress but deliver price increases.”

The health and well-being of Coloradans must continue to be a top priority because we are facing a public health epidemic. The opioid epidemic in the United States has claimed more lives than the entire Vietnam War.

During the last session we passed bills to help battle this epidemic by getting people the care and treatment they need and addressing prescribing practices. These bipartisan measures are a good start, but there is much more work to be done to end the stigma surrounding addiction and recovery. That means we must work together to save lives and end this epidemic.

Many of the prior efforts to address the opioid crisis won bipartisan support, but the more controversial proposals remain for this session. In addition to finding new ways to prevent usage and money for treatment, lawmakers are considering a proposal for safe-injection sites.

Neville blasted the idea, saying it would “normalize the self-destructive behavior” and represent taxpayers “subsidizing the slow-motion suicide of our citizens.”

There is another epidemic we must address – gun violence.

Our state, our children, our families and even those who are now represented in this chamber have been personally impacted by this crisis. Coloradans are tired of living with the consequences of inaction. They are marching in the streets and taking to the halls of this building. And they are demanding action on gun sense legislation.

Becker is referring to Rep. Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex died in the Aurora theater shooting in 2012. He stood up in the chamber when he was referenced. Here’s more from our conversation with Sullivan about his election.

That means we will work to pass the life saving Extreme Risk Protection Order bill to prevent tragedies before they happen.

The public knows this more commonly as a “red flag” bill. The line drew huge applause from Democratic lawmakers, who approved the bipartisan measure in 2018 but saw it die in the GOP-held Senate.

Republicans balked. Neville said such laws “are so badly written and open to abuse (that) they are more likely to rob the innocent of the ability to defend themselves than prevent the mentally ill from killing.”

Over the past few years, we have made significant bipartisan strides towards reforming our broken criminal justice system – we are even seeing consensus at the federal level on this issue so it is my hope that this is an area where we can continue to find common ground.

We’ve come a long way from when we were labeled “The Hate State.” Last session, we were able to preserve a strong Colorado Civil Rights Division, and we’ve also made important progress for our LGBTQ community in recent years, but there is still work to do to ensure we have a more inclusive and more fair Colorado.

In 1992, Colorado voters approved a ballot initiative that barred protections for people on the basis of their sexual orientation. The move prompted opponents to call Colorado the “hate state.”

Becker has not outlined any specific legislation, but Democrats expect to propose a ban on the controversial practice of gay-conversion therapy.

That means instead of building walls and barriers that seek to sow division and block progress, we will build bridges and partnerships that will power our people and our state forward.   

Last session, we worked to address the culture of the Capitol. The Capitol must be a place where everyone feels safe and respected, and that means we will continue to focus on reforming the culture and work together – regardless of party – to implement necessary changes this session.

A year ago, the state legislature was rocked by a series of sexual-harassment scandals that led to the expulsion of a House lawmaker who was elected as a Democrat before switching parties.

An outside investigation outlined steps to address the problems at the Capitol, but lawmakers have still not acted on most of the recommendations.

So now it’s time to work together. Coloradans cast their votes for those who will fight to expand opportunity for all and to govern responsibly. Coloradans chose compassion and opportunity over cruelty and chaos. They want leaders who will stand for something – not against everything. They want a government that will work for the people  – not special interests.

This line drew a stern rebuke from Colorado Republican Party Chairman Jeff Hays, who compared the remark to Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” line from the 2016 campaign. “So Republican voters, whether white, black or brown, employees or owners, stay-at-home moms or graduates just entering the work force, are the forces of cruelty and chaos?” he wrote to supporters. “Turns out, 2019 Colorado Democrats respect you only if you voted for them.”

We must continue to reach across the aisle and not be afraid to find those sweet spots that reflect the Colorado way. This is a new and diverse group of lawmakers who will all bring influential ideas and renewed energy to this chamber and it’s on all of us to problem solve for the next one hundred and twenty days.

Becker and Neville suggested they would work together where possible. And it’s true that the majority of legislation that wins approval in the legislature is bipartisan, but most of it is noncontroversial tweaks to existing laws. But the big-ticket items this session are less likely to represent the bipartisan “Colorado way” that Becker is referencing.

In fact, the opening-day speeches gave clear indications that Democrats and Republicans are prepared to fight major ideological battles, even if the minority party can’t do anything to stop legislation.

I am honored to serve as your Speaker – and a Speaker for all Coloradans. I am excited about what we can accomplish together in order to protect the Colorado way of life. Thank you. God bless the State of Colorado and let’s get to work.

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    John Frank is a former Colorado Sun staff writer. He left the publication in January 2021.