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Colorado legislators face 3 big issues; can they find compromise in session’s second half?

The politically divided chambers of the Colorado General Assembly spent the first half of the 2015 session shooting down each other’s bills left and right: Rollbacks of gun control died in the first weeks, as have funding and reforms for social programs.

Party leadership hope the second half can be ruled by compromise on the three biggest issues of the session: the onslaught of public school testing, regulation of oil and gas operations and changes in how homeowners get redress from builders for construction defects.

All three issues have a tough road ahead.

Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, the Democratic leader of the majority party in the House, didn’t parse words about construction defects.

“The bill that was introduced is a terrible bill. It takes away consumers’ rights,” said Hullinghorst, from Boulder. “Maybe we can get some compromise.”

But she doubts even the premise behind the bills that more protections for homebuilders will mean an up-tick in construction and a solution to the housing shortage in the Denver metro area.

On the flip side, oil and gas reforms — especially on the issue of local control over extraction — have been a nonstarter with Republicans, who hold the Senate majority.

Senate President Bill Cadman, a Colorado Springs Republican, said there is good bipartisan support for some recommendations that came out of the governor’s oil and gas task force, but not for local control.

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“Frankly, I don’t think that there was anything in those recommendations that was going to placate the extreme left on this issue. As a matter of fact, the day those recommendations came out, we were probably all inundated with ‘ban fracking now,’?” Cadman said last week. “They have played their cards. There are some people who are going to drive up to you in their diesel-powered car wearing a polypropylene jacket and demand that we stop producing these things.”

So all hopes for real compromise might rest on education.

Sources say Colorado Springs Sen. Owen Hill, a first-term Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee, is in the thick of negotiations for an omnibus fix to the claims of too much testing, substandard national assessments, Common Core standards and unfair evaluations of teachers. He has been working with House Democrats to craft legislation that has a shot of winning approval and landing on the governor’s desk. Hill couldn’t be reached for comment.

Hullinghorst and Cadman were optimistic compromise could be met.

“If they are optimistic, that gives us all cause to be optimistic,” said Rep. Paul Lundeen, a Republican from Monument who resigned as chair of the State Education Board after winning his House seat in November. “I don’t think it divides neatly along party lines. I think there are people in both parties who are divided on the question.”

For example, Lundeen and Democratic Sen. Michael Merrifield of Colorado Springs agree that there is simply too much testing.

“We need to push back on the overwhelming amount of testing that are driving the joy out of teaching and learning,” said Merrifield, who was a teacher for 30 years.

Merrifield and Lundeen serve on their chambers’ education committees, as does Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs.

Merrifield has several bills waiting to be heard in the House Education Committee, and those propose fixes for testing and would eliminate the element of a teacher’s evaluation that is dependent on student test scores. Merrifield said those bills are unlikely to pass, but he hopes the concepts are adopted in the negotiated omnibus bill.

Lundeen and Hill have a bill together that would create spending accounts with a student’s allocated state education funding that could be spent by a parent on any public or private school — a sort of voucher program they have named C-FLEX. It has yet to have a committee hearing.

More than 300 bills have been introduced at the midpoint of the 120-day legislative session. Of those, about 90 have been killed. Few have been sent to the governor, and most haven’t been acted on at all.

And like the education omnibus, oil and gas bills and a compromise for the construction defects, some of the most important bills of the session are still being drafted behind closed doors.


Contact Megan Schrader: 286-0644

Twitter @CapitolSchrader 

This article was written by Megan Schrader from The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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