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Colorado House Minority Leader Mike Lynch, front center, makes a point during a press conference in the House Chambers of the Colorado State Capitol Tuesday, May 9, 2023, in Denver. The GOP leadership spoke about the recently concluded legislative session. (Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado via AP)

More than 88% of the 474 bills passed during Colorado’s 2023 legislative session that became law received bipartisan support.

The bipartisan rate was somewhat lower this year than in recent years. There were also fewer unanimous votes and more straight-party-line votes during the 2023 lawmaking term. The data comes after a session dominated by partisan and intraparty conflicts stoked by Democrats’ expanded majorities in the House and Senate. 

The Colorado Sun analyzed final House and Senate floor votes on each of the 474 bills that became law to parse out the data. It’s the fourth year The Sun has examined voting patterns in the state legislature

More than 78% of the 617 bills introduced in the Colorado General Assembly this year were passed, the second highest percentage in the past 11 years. But the number of bills introduced was the third lowest since 2013.

Democratic Gov. Jared Polis vetoed 10 of the 484 bills passed by the legislature, the highest number since he became the state’s chief executive in 2019. All 10 of those measures received Democratic and Republican “no” votes, and all but one had at least one Republican voting “yes.” Half of the vetoed bills had bipartisan sponsorship, and half were sponsored solely by Democrats.

Despite bipartisan support for all but 56 of the bills that became law this year, partisanship was more pronounced in 2023 at the Colorado Capitol than in recent memory:

  • 11.8% of bills passed with no GOP support, which was nearly double the rates in 2019, 2021 and 2022. (In some instances, Democrats joined Republicans in voting “no.”)
  • About 7% of the bills — 32 — passed along party lines with only Democratic support and all Republicans objecting.
  • At least one Democrat voted “no” on 125 of the bills that became law. That happened more often in the House, where Democrats have a 46-19 supermajority, than in the Senate, where Democrats have a 23-12 majority.
  • Sixty measures passed with unanimous support, representing about 13% of the bills that became law.

While divisions among Republicans at the statehouse have been common in recent years, Democrats also exhibited dissension in 2023, typically between moderates and more progressive lawmakers and often in the House. 

Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, a Democrat who served as House speaker from 2015 to 2016, said the Democratic discord isn’t unexpected, especially with a significant number of new lawmakers in the Capitol, as there were this year.

“When you do have a really strong majority there tends to be more disagreement,” she said. “There are so many differences in opinion. You reach sort of a critical mass where there are just certain issues that all Democrats don’t agree on.” 

Divisions among House Democrats and Republicans

Rep. Ken DeGraaf (R) of Colorado Springs speaks with parents and community members on March 23, 2023, at the Colorado Capitol after a shooter injured two faculty members at East High School in Denver. He was one of three Republicans who voted “no” most often on bills that became law in 2023. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Republicans and Democrats had divisions within their House caucuses this year. And that was made clear by their final votes. 

The Sun defines final votes as third-reading votes, readoption after an opposing chamber’s amendments and readoption after a conference committee report, whichever came last. (A conference committee is where senators and representatives form an ad hoc committee to work out changes to a bill.)

Moderate Democrats sided with Republicans in voting “no” on some more liberal measures, while progressive Democrats sometimes voted against their more moderate colleagues, especially on criminal justice bills.

House Democrats needed help from the GOP to get four measures passed because not enough of the 46 members of their caucus voted for the bills. Those measures were:

  • House Bill 1135, which increased penalties for indecent exposure in certain instances when it’s committed in front of a child. Democratic House members rejected the bill, with 27 voting against the measure and 18 voting for it, but all 19 Republicans in the chamber voted for the legislation. In the Senate, the bill passed unanimously.
  • Senate Bill 25, which created a new “In God We Trust” license plate. House Democrats voted 27-19 for the bill, while Republicans voted 17-1 for it. If it weren’t for the GOP support in the House, the legislation would have failed. The bill passed the Senate 22-7, with all the “no” votes coming from Democrats.
  • Senate Bill 34, which modifies the definition of “severe bodily injury” in the criminal code. Seventeen House Democrats and one in the Senate voted against the measure, while all 31 Republicans in the legislature voted for it. Without the GOP, the measure would have failed in the House.
  • Senate Bill 110, which is aimed at improving transparency for metropolitan districts. House Democrats opposed the bill, with 23 voting against the measure and 22 voting for it, while the House GOP supported it 18-1. The Senate passed the measure 29-3, with only Democrats opposed.

The four House Democrats who voted “no” most often were:

  • Rep. Elisabeth Epps, of Denver (10%)
  • Rep. Lorena Garcia, of Adams County (8%)
  • Rep. Javier Mabrey, of Denver (7%)
  • Rep. Bob Marshall, of Highlands Ranch (6%) 

The other 42 Democrats in the House voted “yes” on 96% or more of the bills that became law. That compares with all House Democrats voting “yes” on 95% or more of the bills that became law in 2022. Epps didn’t respond to Colorado Sun requests for comment.

Garcia said she weighs how a bill will impact people before deciding how to vote. 

“All the positions that I take and the issues that I work on … are really about addressing root causes, to allow anyone and everyone to be able to have a strong economic future,” Garcia said. “So the bills that I voted ‘no’ on, from my perspective, were bills that did not address root causes — that might be attempting to address an issue that’s happening in our communities, but, at the end of the day, would do nothing to deter what’s actually happening.”

That included criminal justice measures that increased penalties but didn’t address the root causes of crime, she said. 

There are 19 Republicans in the House. Three House Republicans voted “no” on 70% or more of the bills that became law: Reps. Stephanie Luck, of Penrose (74%); Scott Bottoms, of Colorado Springs (73%); and Ken DeGraaf, of Colorado Springs (71%). DeGraaf and Luck were prime sponsors of two House bills that became law. Bottoms cosponsored a Senate bill that became law — the “In God We Trust” license plate measure — but wasn’t the prime sponsor of any legislation that made it across the finish line.

The other 16 House Republicans voted “yes” on 43% or more of the bills that became law.

DeGraaf said he voted against bills in a few categories: those that would expand government, those that he felt misrepresented what they would actually do and those that haven’t been “properly vetted.” He added that he was disappointed by how little impact debate seemed to make for a bill’s success or failure. 

“Once a bill reaches the floor, it seems virtually guaranteed to pass,” he said.

First-year GOP Rep. Rick Taggart, of Grand Junction, voted “yes” on 73% of the bills that became law. House Minority Leader Mike Lynch, of Wellington, voted “yes” on nearly 65% of the bills.

Taggart said he was surprised to learn he was the Republican who had voted for the most bills that became law. He said he focused less on who was sponsoring the legislation he was voting on and instead on the policies themselves.

“My approach from day one was to work on bipartisan bills that were good, not only for my community here in Grand Junction, but good for the state,” he said.   

Senate Democrats stick together, most Republicans voted “yes” 50% of the time or more

State Sen. Kevin Priola, center.
State Sen. Kevin Priola, center., voted “yes” on 97% of the bills that became law in 2023 after switching from the Republican to the Democratic Party. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Democrats and Republicans were more unified in their final votes in the 35-member Senate, which gave unanimous approval to one-third of the bills considered in the chamber that became law.

All but two of the 12 Republicans in the Senate voted “yes” 52% of the time or more on the 474 bills that became law. And all 23 Democratic senators voted “yes” 97% of the time or more.

Sen. Kevin Van Winkle, of Highlands Ranch, voted “no” on 56% of the bills that became law, while Sen. Mark Baisley, of Woodland Park, voted “no” on 55%. 

“I just disagree generally with the direction Colorado’s moving, the way we’re being led by Democrats,” Van Winkle told The Sun earlier this year in explaining why he votes “no” on so many bills.

Democratic Sens. Kevin Priola, of Henderson, and Dylan Roberts, of Avon, voted “no” on only 14 of the bills that became law, but that was enough to make them the least likely to support measures clearing the chamber this year. 

Priola switched his party affiliation to Democratic from Republican in August. He previously was often the lone Republican “yes” vote on Democratic bills that became law. This year, he voted in favor of 97% of bills that became law, compared with 87% last year. 

Priola said some of that can be chalked up to the natural differences between each session. He added that now that he’s part of the Democratic caucus, he has changed the way he votes.

“This year, those tweener bills that no one was upset about either way — that I didn’t think were bad policies but I wasn’t in love with them either — being in the other caucus I gave them the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “I’m going to support my caucus.”  

Sandra Fish has covered government and politics in Iowa, Florida, New Mexico and Colorado. She was a full-time journalism instructor at the University of Colorado for eight years, and her work as appeared on CPR, KUNC, The Washington Post, Roll...