Guns, gays and grass: Colorado wraps up historic legislative session

Daily Caller News Foundation logo
Greg Campbell Contributor
Font Size:

The Democratic agenda for the legislative session, which ended for the year on Wednesday, reads like a list of topics you’re not supposed to discuss at dinner with future in-laws.

It included gun control, civil unions, legal marijuana, restrictions on oil and gas drilling, expansion of Medicaid, changes to election laws, a steep increase in renewable energy requirements for energy providers and new rights for illegal immigrants and their children — including in-state college tuition and drivers licenses.

They floated ideas that would have banned assault weapons, concealed carry permits on college campuses and the death penalty, but those issues didn’t make it as far as the rest.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a session in my life with so many big issues,” said Mark Radtke, a lobbyist with the Colorado Municipal League.

The only things Democrats didn’t have much time for, said Republican House Minority Leader Rep. Mark Waller, were jobs and the economy.

At the beginning of the legislative session in January, Waller told The Daily Caller News Foundation that he assumed the Democratic majority would seek to take advantage of their numbers, but he also expressed hope that they would honor their pledge to work in a bipartisan way.

Reminded of those comments Wednesday while fellow representatives cleaned out their desks, he summed up what he thought actually happened.

“Light on the bipartisanship and a little heavy on the taking advantage of their majority,” he said. “They overreached to a much greater degree than I ever expected they would. I’ve talked to people who’ve been in this building for 30 years and they’re saying the same thing. This has been the biggest overreach that they’ve seen in the history of the state.”

“I was hopeful that we would be able to come together more and work together on jobs and the economy,” he continued. “That just never materialized.”

In fact, some of the bills passes this session do impact the economy, although not as Waller would like.

The most controversial topic was gun control, with Democrats initially floating a package of seven bills in response to mass shootings in Aurora and Newtown, Conn. Five passed, including one to ban high capacity magazines in a bill that also bans magazines that can be easily converted to hold more than 15 rounds.

The bill sponsor, Democratic Rep. Rhonda Fields, told a TV reporter that she didn’t realize that definition covers practically every magazine with a removable base plate. That bill — and another requiring universal background checks — caused the most controversy during the session and resulted in some groups calling for hunting and tourism boycotts.

They also led a handful of companies to begin the process of moving out of state, including a magazine manufacturing business with 200 employees that contributes $85 million to the Colorado economy.

Guns dominated the session, but other measures passed more quietly. Nine bills were introduced that would have tightened the screws on the state’s oil and gas industry, but only two, mandating more oversight and reporting requirements, passed.

More stringent bills that increase fines and fees, among other requirements, are sure to come back in future sessions.

Another contentious bill raises the percentage of renewable energy requirements for rural electricity co-ops, which opponents say will drastically increase rural customers’ energy bills. That bill is still awaiting final approval by Gov. John Hickenlooper and there’s a TV ad campaign underway urging him to veto it.

“As a rural Colorado guy, they just abused us,” said Republican Rep. Greg Brophy, who’s from the small Eastern Plains town of Wray, Colo.

Brophy also sees the legislative session as a negative for the state’s economy — the rapid pace of major changes could create uncertainty for businesses.

“Unless there’s an overwhelming victory for Republicans in the next election cycle, you’re going to have to build in some risk for doing business in Colorado,” he said. “That’s true if you’re an oil and gas company, that’s true if you’re a gun manufacturer, that’s even true if you’re in agriculture.”

Democrats, however, see the session as both historical and positive for the state, citing popular support for issues like civil unions, gun control and immigration changes.

“I think it was a very productive session,” House Speaker Mark Ferrandino said on Colorado Morning News Thursday. “There were a lot of weighty issues we got done that people have been asking for and pushing for for a long time. There was a lot of focus on the contentious issues, but 95 percent of the bills that got sent to the governor are going with bipartisan support.”

Ferrandino also cited investments in advanced industries, higher education and job training to counter criticism that Democrats gave short shrift to jobs and the economy.

“So there was a lot of work across the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, to get legislation done,” he said.

Follow Greg on Twitter

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact

All content created by the Daily Caller News Foundation, an independent and nonpartisan newswire service, is available without charge to any legitimate news publisher that can provide a large audience. All republished articles must include our logo, our reporter’s byline and their DCNF affiliation. For any questions about our guidelines or partnering with us, please contact