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