• Original Reporting
  • On the Ground
  • Sources Cited
  • Subject Specialist
Original Reporting This article contains new, firsthand information uncovered by its reporter(s). This includes directly interviewing sources and research / analysis of primary source documents.
On the Ground Indicates that a Newsmaker/Newsmakers was/were physically present to report the article from some/all of the location(s) it concerns.
Sources Cited As a news piece, this article cites verifiable, third-party sources which have all been thoroughly fact-checked and deemed credible by the Newsroom in accordance with the Civil Constitution.
Subject Specialist This Newsmaker has been deemed by this Newsroom as having a specialized knowledge of the subject covered in this article.
The Colorado Capitol on Dec. 10, 2021. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

The 2023 legislative session in Colorado began Monday.

The House and Senate began their business at about 10 a.m. The top Democrat and Republican in each chamber made a speech outlining their respective caucuses’ policy plans for the 120-day lawmaking term.

New and reelected lawmakers were also sworn into office on Monday. Some legislation will be introduced.

We live-blogged the highlights, including breaking news, analysis and photos, from the first day of the 74th General Assembly.

MORE: Six numbers that will define Colorado’s 2023 legislative session

First bills in the Colorado legislature — mostly from Democrats — start to trickle out

The first bills were introduced Monday as the Colorado General Assembly kicked off the 2023 lawmaking term. 

Here’s a look at some of the major measures unveiled: 

  • House Bill 1001 would expand a program to forgive student loans for Coloradans who become teachers
  • Senate Bill 1 would authorize public-private partnerships to create affordable housing on state-owned land, especially for teachers
  • House Bill 1010 would create a task force to study the feasibility of high-altitude water storage facilities
  • House Bill 1042 would prevent law enforcement from using deceptive tactics to get statements from juvenile suspects. A similar measure failed last year.
  • House Bill 1013 would limit use of restraints or involuntary medication in prisons
  • House Bill 1003 could create a mental health assessment program for students in grades six through 12.
  • Senate Bill 4 would allow school districts to hire mental health professionals with a state-issued license who don’t have certification from the state Department of Education

Sandra Fish

Newly minted House Speaker Julie McCluskie says lawmakers will focus on tackling Colorado’s water problems

House Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, on the first day of the 2023 legislative session. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Newly minted House Speaker Julie McCluskie on Monday called addressing Colorado’s water problems the “centerpiece of our conservation efforts” at the Colorado Capitol in 2023. 

“Our water faces unprecedented threats that no one has seen or experienced before,” the Dillon Democrat said in a 40-minute speech Monday kicking off this year’s lawmaking term. 

Flows on the Colorado River, which supplies water to millions of people across the West, have declined roughly 20% since 2000. These declines have been made worse by increasing population in the region, as well as climate change.

McCluskie didn’t provide specific details on how the legislature will address water issues. But she offered that lawmakers would try to modernize Colorado’s water management system and seek out new federal funding to support their efforts.  

Beyond water policy, McCluskie said House Democrats will take steps this year at the Colorado Capitol to further cement abortion access in the state by expanding the health care workers who are trained to do abortion procedures. The speaker said Democrats will also introduce measures aimed at preventing gun violence, including one that would require a waiting period between when someone purchases a firearm and can access it and another raising the age to purchase rifles and shotguns to 21. 

McCluskie also said her caucus would work to address pollution, increase public transportation options, tackle the affordable housing shortage, fund education and bolster the state’s workforce.

House Minority Leader Mike Lynch, a Wellington Republican, offered an olive branch to Democrats in his brief opening remarks Monday. He acknowledged the historic minority House Republicans are in — there are 46 Democrats and 19 Republicans — and noted that it is “the people’s House, not the representatives’ House.”

Mike Lynch speaks at the GOP state assembly on Saturday, April 9, 2022, in Colorado Springs. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

“We’re easily tempted to put party over the people, and service takes a second seat over our own personal ambition,” he said.

Lynch urged Democrats to listen to all Coloradans during the session.

“We are going to vigorously defend our differing opinions” he said. “May we also never forget that we are colleagues and individuals, with way more in common as humans and Americans than we have in differences as members of a political party.”— Elliott Wenzler and Sandra Fish

Colorado Senate president says Democrats will “prioritize preventing gun violence”

Senate President Steve Fenberg delivers opening day remarks at the Capitol on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado Senate President Steve Fenberg said in his speech to open the 2023 legislative session on Monday that Democrats in his chamber will “prioritize preventing gun violence,” indicating there will be several gun control measures introduced at the Capitol this year.  

“We lost more than 1,000 Coloradans to gun violence in 2021,” he said. “That is simply unacceptable.”

Fenberg said state Sen. Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial, will introduce a measure to “expand and improve” Colorado’s red flag law, which lets judges order the temporary seizure of firearms from people deemed a significant risk to themselves or others.

Right now, law enforcement and family members of a person in crisis are really the only groups that can petition a judge to order a gun seizure. Fenberg said the bill Sullivan is working on would expand that ability to include district attorneys and counselors. 

Sullivan’s son, Alex, was murdered in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting.

“Nobody is saying that Coloradans don’t have the right to defend themselves and own a gun. We’re saying that, in a civilized society, where people expect the freedom to live with basic security and safety, we must be willing to consider that there are some people who are not fit to possess a deadly weapon because of the extreme risk they pose to themselves and others,” Fenberg said. “We must do more as a society to protect innocent lives.”

Some other key lines from Fenberg’s speech:

  • “On the issue of public safety: We can’t ignore the unmistakable reality that the rates of some crimes have gone up.”
  • “How and at what level we support our public education system in Colorado also needs a mature and thoughtful debate. Let’s build on the successes from the past years, when we expanded access to universal preschool, full-day kindergarten and (invested) historic levels of funding in classrooms.”
  • “Likely the biggest issue — and the most difficult one to solve — is the runaway costs that families and businesses are facing. Although it feels out of our hands at some points, let’s choose to focus on the areas that we do have control over. 
  • “This year we will further expand protections for women’s access to reproductive health care.”

Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican, also gave an opening day address. He highlighted the need to work on water issues and to help keep energy costs down during the transition away from fossil fuels, including by doing more to explore the use of nuclear energy. 

Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen delivers opening day remarks at the Capitol on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Lundeen acknowledged that the 12 Republicans in the Senate are far outnumbered by the chamber’s 23 Democrats, but he said the GOP caucus still plans to have an influence on policy.

“The Republican caucus in this chamber can, and I believe will, make a fundamental difference,” he said. “The election is behind us. And we honor the result. The 12 Republican senators seated in this chamber were also elected by the hardworking people who call Colorado home. And we have a responsibility to represent our constituents.”

Jesse Paul

Vote for Colorado House speaker provides preview of Republican shenanigans — and division — to come

Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Scott Bottoms addresses the Colorado House Monday, Jan. 9, 2023.
Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Scott Bottoms addresses the Colorado House Monday, after his surprise nomination to be speaker. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun) Hugh Carey

Two new Republican state representatives from Colorado Springs gave an early indication Monday of how the House may operate this year — and how divided the chamber’s GOP caucus is — as they disrupted the typically mundane and celebratory proceedings of the first day of the legislative session. 

Republican Rep. Ken DeGraff nominated fellow Republican Rep. Scott Bottoms, an evangelical pastor with controversial views, as speaker of the Colorado House, where Democrats have a supermajority. Bottoms seconded his own nomination. Both lawmakers are from Colorado Springs. 

The vote for House speaker is typically unanimous, and the speaker’s gavel goes to someone in the chamber’s majority. Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, was elected speaker with 55 votes. 

Eight of the 19 House Republicans voted against McCluskie: DeGraff and Bottoms, along with Reps. Lisa Frizell, Brandi Bradley, Richard Holtorf, Stephanie Luck, Ron Weinberg and Ty Winter. Six of those eight are new to the House and the legislature this year after being elected on Nov. 8.

“We’re not going to have power this session, we understand that, but we do have principles,” Bottoms said in a speech aimed at securing support for his speaker bid. “God created life … he created male and female, he created them at conception. We also stand for the Second Amendment in all circumstances.”

Bottoms has falsely said Planned Parenthood sells the body parts of aborted fetuses and that the FBI instigated the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Bottoms is the pastor of Church at Briargate and calls himself anti-establishment and part of the “far right”

DeGraff spoke in support of Bottoms, focusing largely on the issue of abortion.

“I’m giving the choice between life and death,” he said in a nod to Democrats’ efforts to protect abortion access in Colorado.

Outgoing Rep. Daneya Esgar, a Pueblo Democrat who was standing in as speaker during the vote, warned the two Republicans against disparaging other members while making speeches on the House floor.

Democrats gathered around McCluskie, speaking in hushed voices, as the nomination speeches proceeded.

Rep. Julie McCluskie, a Dillon Democrat, is nominated for House speaker on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023.
Rep. Julie McCluskie, a Dillon Democrat, is nominated for House speaker on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun) Hugh Carey

“This is not a stunt and this is not partisan,” DeGraff said in response to Democrats who criticized the nomination. 

But GOP Rep. Matt Soper, of Delta, recommended that fellow Republicans vote for McCluskie, whose nomination was seconded by House Minority Leader Mike Lynch, a Wellington Republican.

“I’ve heard from my constituents across Colorado saying that ‘I don’t want Colorado to be like Washington. I want you guys to rise above the fray, to do better,’” Soper said. 

Holtorf, despite voting against McCluskie’s speaker bid, was critical of Bottoms’ attempt to become speaker before the vote was taken.

“This is probably not the right moment in time for Colorado to have this very complex and difficult debate,” he said. “You can’t walk in the gold dome the first day and begin to think you understand the mechanics and the complexities of Colorado.”
Elliott Wenzler, Sandra Fish and Jesse Paul

Women were set to make up the majority of Colorado’s legislature. Tracey Bernett’s resignation may change that.

Women were set to make up the majority of Colorado’s state lawmakers. State Rep. Tracey Bernett’s resignation Monday may change that. 

Bernett, a Boulder County Democrat, announced her resignation Sunday night as she faces criminal charges stemming from allegations that she lied about her residence to run for reelection last year in a more politically favorable district. A vacancy committee will select Bernett’s replacement in the coming weeks. 

If a woman is selected to replace Bernett, women will make up a majority of Colorado’s state lawmakers, at 51 of 100. There would be 39 House members who are women and a dozen senators who are women. Colorado would trail only Nevada in the number of women in its legislature.

Some other statistics about women lawmakers in Colorado. 

  • Republicans doubled the number of GOP women in the state Senate — to two — with the election of state Rep. Janice Rich, of Grand Junction.
  • The number of Republican women in the House remains at six, although only two of them — Reps. Stephanie Luck of Penrose and Mary Bradfield of Colorado Springs — are returning members.

Jesse Paul and Sandra Fish

Don’t expect Colorado Democrats, Gov. Jared Polis to extend the delay of the start of the new gas fee

The Kittredge General Store and its gas pumps are pictured May 18, 2021, in Kittredge. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Gov. Jared Polis and Democrats in the legislature have been coy about whether they plan to extend beyond April 1 a pause on a new fee on each gallon of gas Coloradans purchase.

The 2-cent-per-gallon fee, part of a 2021 package to raise billions of dollars for Colorado transportation projects and initiatives, was supposed to begin in July. But Polis and Democrats in the legislature during the 2022 legislative session delayed its implementation until April, citing high fuel costs and other inflationary pressures facing Coloradans. The legislature spent $45 million to backfill the lost revenue.

Republicans cried foul, calling the delay a political stunt aimed at helping Democrats in the November election.

With the election behind them, Polis and Democrats won’t commit to extending the fee pause again. In fact, the fee goes up to 3 cents per gallon in July and increases by a penny per gallon each year until it hits 8 cents on July 1, 2028.

Polis said in November, days before the 2022 election, that he was “very open” to continuing the gas fee pause. But asked Tuesday by The Sun if he would call for the delay to be extended, especially given the shutdown of the Suncor refinery in Commerce City, which is expected to cause gas prices to increase, Polis wouldn’t directly say.

“I think what we need to get our arms around is how long this (shutdown) will last and what impact it will have,” he said. “We want to work with Suncor to make sure they’re online as quickly as possible. I think they’re still assessing their exact timeframe.”

Polis said the shutdown may only last “a matter of months.”

Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, was more direct. He said that continuing the gas fee pause is not on the table. “I’m not sure, frankly, we have the budget for that.”

Fenberg said the legislature plans to set aside funds to extend a 2022 move to make it nearly free to start a business in Colorado. But he said any fee relief package lawmakers adopt this year won’t be the same “as it was in the last year or two.”

The legislature won’t have much money to spend this year, in large part because most of the money the general assembly has to spend is already spoken for. Another reason is the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which limits government growth and spending.

Lawmakers could, of course, shuffle their existing funding plans, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

Still, Fenberg said affordability is a key policy goal for Democrats at the Capitol in 2023.

“This coming year, it’s going to be more about structural problems that are creating the affordability crisis rather than just focusing on the fee aspect,” he said, explaining that affordability in health care, housing and child care will be particular focuses.

Jesse Paul

State representative accused of lying about her residence resigns on eve of Colorado’s 2023 lawmaking term

State Rep. Tracey Bernett

State Rep. Tracey Bernett, a Boulder County Democrat facing criminal charges for allegedly lying about her residence to run for reelection last year in a more politically favorable district, announced her resignation from the legislature late Sunday, just hours ahead of the start of Colorado’s 2023 lawmaking term.

Bernett’s resignation was announced in a statement released by her attorneys.

“Ms. Bernett has chosen to relinquish her position while addressing these charges rather than compromising the policy initiatives she deems important to … the citizens of Colorado,” the statement from the Stimson LaBranche Hubbard law firm said.

The 2023 legislative session in Colorado begins Monday, which is when Bernett’s resignation takes effect.

“I am proud of what I have accomplished in my time in office and want to thank all the people who have supported and worked with me in moving Colorado forward,” Bernett said in a written statement.

Bernett was charged in November with felony counts of attempting to influence a public servant, forgery and providing false information about a residence. She was also charged with misdemeanor counts of perjury and procuring false registration. 

The charges stem from a complaint filed in September with the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office by Theresa Watson, chair of the Boulder County Republicans. The complaint asked prosecutors to look into whether Bernett broke the law by casting a ballot in the June 28 primary while registered at an address where she doesn’t actually live.

Read the whole story here.

Jesse Paul

The Colorado legislature begins 2023 with 32 brand new state lawmakers

Members of the Colorado Senate meet on Monday, June 7, 2021 during the final days of the 2021 legislative session. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Roughly a third of the legislature will be brand new when Colorado’s 2023 lawmaking term begins Monday.

Here’s a closer look at the numbers:

  • 30 of the 65 representatives in the House will be sworn into the legislature for the first time on Monday, including 18 Democrats and 12 Republicans. 
  • Two of the 35 members of the Senate will be sworn into legislative seats for the first time Monday. They are Democratic Sen.-elect Janice Marchman, of Loveland, who defeated incumbent Republican Rob Woodward, and Sen.-elect Byron Pelton, a Sterling Republican.

There will be nine other new senators sworn into office Monday, but all of them were elected to their seats after serving in the House. 

Only one newcomer to the House, state Sen. Tammy Story, a Conifer Democrat who was elected to a House seat in November, has experience in the legislature. Story ran for the House after her Senate district became heavily Republican last year during the once-in-a-decade redistricting process

Sandra Fish and Jesse Paul

Democrats will have big majorities in the Colorado House, Senate

Colorado Democrats will begin the 2023 legislative session Monday with large majorities in the House and Senate. 

That 46-19 Democratic majority in the state House is five seats larger than the 41-24 majority Democrats have had over the past two years. The margin is so big Democrats will have a supermajority in the chamber, meaning they can override Gov. Jared Polis’ vetoes, refer constitutional changes to voters and call a special legislative session, all three of which require the support of two-thirds of the chamber. 

The Senate Democrats’ majority, at 23-12, is one vote short of a supermajority. However, it is two votes larger than the 21-14 edge Democrats have had over the past two years. The majority was padded by the August decision of Sen. Kevin Priola, of Henderson, to switch his party affiliation to Democrat from Republican.

It will be four years before Republicans realistically have a chance to wrest control of government from Democrats given how large Democrats’ majorities are in the House and Senate. 

Sandra Fish

Posts by Colorado Sun staff writers and editors.
Email: Twitter: @ColoradoSun