The Colorado Senate is more bipartisan than the House. Bills sponsored solely by Republicans rarely make it very far in the Democratic-controlled legislature. A state senator running for Denver mayor isn’t working on many measures thus far.
And despite partisan clashes at the Capitol, nearly all of the bills that have passed so far have been supported by both Democrats and Republicans.
Those are some of the takeaways from a Colorado Sun analysis of the nearly 500 bills introduced in the Colorado legislature through March 17, eight days after the midpoint in the state’s 120-day lawmaking term, which runs through May 8. The Sun also found that some groups of legislators vote in blocs and a few Democrats often vote against bills sponsored by members of their own party.
There is still plenty of debate to come, with new bills being introduced at the Capitol each day and nearly half of the measures already in the pipeline still awaiting action.
“There is a lot this session, there’s no question,” said Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat.
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Roughly 46% of the 466 bills introduced through March 17 had yet to pass a floor vote in their original chamber. Only about 20% of measures have advanced through their original chamber, while another 20% of bills have passed both chambers and been sent to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk for signature. Meanwhile, 14% of the bills introduced have been killed, with two-thirds of those measures sponsored solely by Republicans.
Most legislation that advances has bipartisan support
The Sun is tracking actions on bills in Colorado’s 2023 legislative session on a daily basis. That analysis includes examining final vote breakdowns in a 100-member legislature in which one-third of the members are new.
Of the bills that have passed at least one chamber, 51% were sponsored solely by Democrats, who hold a 46-19 super-majority in the House and have a 23-12 advantage in the Senate. About 48% had bipartisan sponsorship.
Only one bill sponsored solely by Republicans has passed both chambers, while one such measure has passed in the Senate.
About 91% of the 91 bills approved by the legislature thus far had unanimous or bipartisan support. That’s similar to trends in past legislative sessions.
“We have a lot of diversity on the floor,” said House Majority Leader Monica Duran, a Wheat Ridge Democrat. “I welcome that diversity because we don’t all want to be in an echo chamber.“
The Senate is more bipartisan
Democrats and Republicans have collaborated more frequently on the 198 bills introduced in the Senate than on the 248 bills introduced in the House, The Sun’s analysis shows.
More than 45% of bills introduced in the Senate have had bipartisan sponsorship, compared with 32% of bills introduced in the House.
Democrats are the sole sponsors of half of the bills introduced in the House and 47% of the bills introduced in the Senate. Nearly 18% of House bills had only Republican sponsors, compared with 7% in the Senate.
A bill’s sponsors can change between when it is introduced and when it passes or fails. Additional sponsors are added throughout the lawmaking process as legislation is debated.
Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican, said senators’ legislative experience — many previously served in the House — may be one reason for the increased bipartisanship in the upper chamber.
“They’ve developed relationships, they’ve developed an understanding of ‘who across the aisle can I work with,’” he said.
House GOP divided when it comes to voting
Of the 268 final votes on bills thus far, nearly half were bipartisan and 35% were unanimous.
But there are substantial differences in floor-voting trends between the House and the Senate.
For example, 43% of the 143 Senate final votes through Friday were unanimous, compared with only 25% of the 125 final votes in the state House.
That’s in part because a trio of House Republicans — Reps. Scott Bottoms and Ken DeGraaf, both of Colorado Springs, and Stephanie Luck, of Penrose — often voted against bills.
The three in some combination or alone accounted for 15 of the 20 instances where three or fewer House members voted against a measure. They are also the only Republican lawmakers who aren’t sponsoring any bills with Democrats so far.
In eight of the 15 instances, the state Senate approved the measures unanimously.
Luck said she tried to separate policy issues from personalities and relationships, while remaining true to the promises she made to her conservative constituents.
“I gave my constituents a litmus test that I would use to determine my stance on bills. It was my way of anchoring to the principles that I committed to,” she said. “I have a 7-point litmus test and if I can’t answer ‘yes’ to every one of those questions then I vote ‘no’ on the bill.”
Sen. Kevin Van Winkle, R-Highlands Ranch, voted “no” in half of the 10 votes when only three or fewer senators rejected bills. During the 2022 session, Van Winkle was in the House and was fourth among members there with the most “no” floor votes..
“I just disagree generally with the direction Colorado’s moving, the way we’re being led by Democrats,” Van Winkle said.
Sen. Kevin Priola, a Henderson Democrat, was a Republican until August, when he changed his voter registration. When he was a member of the GOP, he often was the sole Republican vote on a Democratic bill, letting Democrats claim a measure had received bipartisan approval.
Through Friday, he’d voted “yes” with Democrats on all but six measures. That included three Democratic bills aimed at curbing gun violence.
Taking Priola’s place as the Republican lawmaker most likely to vote “yes” on a Democratic bill are state Reps. Rick Taggart, a former Grand Junction City Council member, and Rod Bockenfeld, the sole Republican House member on the Joint Budget Committee, the powerful panel that drafts the state budget.
Taggart was the sole GOP “yes” vote on five Democratic bills. He joined Bockenfeld as one of two GOP votes on four JBC-led measures. Bockenfeld was the sole GOP “yes” vote on five other JBC-sponsored bills.
Democrats have intraparty disputes, too
Democratic lawmakers may have their most sizable majorities in memory, but they don’t always vote together. And Priola isn’t the only one voting “no” on measures sponsored by members of his party.
Democrats in the House are more likely to vote against legislation brought by members of their party than in the Senate. One or more House Democrats defected from their sizable majority nearly 13% of the time, compared with roughly 3% of the time in the Senate.
In many of the intraparty disagreements, it’s more moderate Democrats joining Republicans opposing bills.
State Rep. Shannon Bird, a Westminster Democrat, has voted against a dozen House bills. Those votes included measures aimed at protecting renters and two bills aimed at substance abuse issues.
She explained her votes by citing her previous two terms in the legislature and feedback from constituents while she campaigned.
“Those have been some of the best conversations and have really guided my thinking,” she said.
Bird explained that she voted against a measure letting local governments impose rent-control measures because “the economist in me tells me that rent control is not the most effective policy to address housing concerns. We have a supply issue rather than a price cap issue.”
Even House Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, has voted “no” on two Democratic-sponsored House bills.
A few more liberal Democrats have also split with their party on occasion. Many of them are first-year lawmakers.
“I respect them. I think I think they’re courageous,” Bird said. “They have creative ideas, many, many ideas that haven’t been brought forward to the Capitol. I think they push important conversations and bring a perspective that we haven’t necessarily had here in the Capitol.”
The biggest split among Democrats so far this year happened when 14 House Democrats voted against providing additional money for the Department of Corrections, saying the agency is mismanaged. That still didn’t scuttle the measure, as 10 Republicans voted “yes” on the bill. In the Senate, six Republicans posed the only opposition to the measure.
Some lawmakers introduce more bills than others
Some lawmakers are more active in introducing bills than others, and those more prolific bill introducers often take a bipartisan approach.
State Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, for example, is a lead or cosponsor of 14 House bills and 13 Senate bills. All but three of those measures have Democratic cosponsors.
Soper said that trend is partially attributable to 2023 being in his fifth year in the House. He’s built relationships with other members during his time at the Capitol.
But he also said he also represents Western Slope constituents who need help from government for services including broadband internet, roads and health care. Getting those priorities done means working with Democrats.
“I would imagine you’ll see more legislators who work across the aisle be from the rural areas because there is a different need there,” Soper said.
On the other hand, state Rep. Leslie Herod, a Democrat running for Denver mayor, hasn’t introduced a House bill so far. She is signed on as a sponsor of only one Senate measure.
She’s the only lawmaker who hasn’t introduced a bill in her chamber this session. She said her five bills — concerning small business, entertainment and “protecting vulnerable citizens,” as she called it — will all be coming late this session.
“They are nonbudget related bills so they will be introduced after the budget,” she said. “I always introduce my bills pretty late because I’ve been a budget person.”
Herod served on the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, which writes the state budget, in the 2020 special session and the 2021 regular session.
State Sen. Chris Hansen, a Democrat who is also running for mayor, is a lead or cosponsor of six Senate and six House bills.
Colorado Sun staff writer Elliott Wenzler and Jesse Paul contributed to this report.