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State Lawmakers Draw Battle Lines On First Day Of 2020 Session

Members of the Mile High Honor Guard present the flags at the opening day of Colorado's legislative session on Wednesday.
Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage
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Members of the Mile High Honor Guard present the flags at the opening day of Colorado's legislative session on Wednesday.

There were the usual jokes and friendly banter between the House and Senate.

State lawmakers from both sides of the aisle exchanged hugs in a chamber that felt a bit like a school getting back to work after an eight-month break.

But amidst the pomp and circumstance of the opening day of Colorado's 2020 legislative session, lawmakers also drew some clear battle lines.

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"If a new payroll tax is imposed under the guise of a fee to establish a new paid family leave bureaucracy, we'll fight it," said House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, minutes after Democrats vowed to pass a paid family leave plan this year.

Some Republicans are also vowing to fight a proposal to create a new public health insurance option that supporters say will lower premiums on the individual market.

This is the last year Democrats are guaranteed to hold majorities in both the House and Senate before the November elections.

So after ticking off a list of accomplishments from last session, Democratic House Speaker KC Becker outlined an ambitious agenda in her opening day speech. As she talked about her priorities, she made it clear Democrats do not intend to shy away from big debates during an election year.

"We need everyone at the table to promote responsible gun ownership and move forward on gun safety initiatives that have already been adopted on a bipartisan basis in states across the country," she said, drawing applause from her fellow Democrats but silence from the Republican side of the room.

In the Senate, Democrats have already unveiled five bills.

One measure would forgive student loan debt for Colorado college graduates who remain in the state and make repayments based on their income.

Another would fund a behavioral health training program to help teachers spot mental health issues in their classrooms.

Lawmakers have 120 days to deliberate and pass legislation.

Last year, the legislature passed 598 bills and approved more than 4,000 amendments to them.

Gov. Jared Polis is scheduled to deliver his State of the State address at 11 a.m. Thursday.

Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Eleven public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.

Copyright 2020 KUNC

Scott Franz is a government watchdog reporter and photographer from Steamboat Springs. He spent the last seven years covering politics and government for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a daily newspaper in northwest Colorado. His reporting in Steamboat stopped a police station from being built in a city park, saved a historic barn from being destroyed and helped a small town pastor quickly find a kidney donor. His favorite workday in Steamboat was Tuesday, when he could spend many of his mornings skiing untracked powder and his evenings covering city council meetings. Scott received his journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an outdoorsman who spends at least 20 nights a year in a tent. He spoke his first word, 'outside', as a toddler in Edmonds, Washington. Scott visits the Great Sand Dunes, his favorite Colorado backpacking destination, twice a year. Scott's reporting is part of Capitol Coverage, a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.
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