Colorado government turns bright blue as state debates civil unions, gun control, death penalty

When Colorado voters gave Democrats a strong majority in both chambers of the state legislature, they set the stage for a slew of hot-button legislation to sail all-but-unimpeded to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk.

Indeed, on the opening day of Colorado’s 69th General Assembly on Wednesday, Democratic Rep. Dianna Primavera reported to the House that Hickenlooper “has plenty of ink in his inkwell to sign the bills.”

“It’s a good feeling,” said House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hollinghorst. “We’re feeling very excited about what we can accomplish.”

One of the first pieces of legislation expected to be introduced is a bill approving civil unions for same-sex partners. The bill died in 2012 amid partisan bickering; Hickenlooper called a special session to hear the bill last year, but it was killed in committee, along party lines.

This year, the first order of business was to elect Democratic Rep. Mark Ferrandino, who sponsored the civil union legislation last year, as the state’s first openly gay speaker of the House.

“We know that since the Democrats are in control that we will most likely see the passing of civil unions,” said Democratic Rep. Rhonda Fields.

Conservatives may be more concerned with gun control legislation, which has once again been thrust into the spotlight in the wake of the recent mass shootings in Aurora, Co. and Newton, Conn. (RELATED: James Holmes preliminary hearing reveals graphic details of “Batman” theater shooting)

Fields will introduce two of what may be four or more gun control bills that Colorado lawmakers will consider this session. One will require people who sell firearms in private transactions to conduct background checks on the buyer through the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, in the same way that a gun store or gun show seller must check buyers’ backgrounds.

“If someone does not complete a background check and that gun is used in a crime, then you would be charged,” Fields said, noting that 40 percent of guns sold in Colorado are distributed through private transactions.

Fields, who represents the district in which the Aurora theater shootings took place, is also sponsoring a bill to ban high-capacity magazines. Other lawmakers are expected to introduce legislation banning guns on campuses, banning assault rifles altogether and developing measures to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

The likelihood that some form of gun control will pass into law unobstructed by the threat of Republican resistance led to a protest rally by gun-rights advocates across the street from the capitol building, as lawmakers were sworn in.

The concern has also led the National Rifle Association to issue a legislative alert in December, warning its members that Colorado is being used as “a guinea pig to push through ineffective and illogical gun control laws at the state level,” according to an article in the Colorado Springs Gazette.