Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A Preview of the 2008 Session of the Colorado General Assembly

The Colorado General Assembly opens its 2008 session on Wednesday, January 9. There will be some new faces this year, but the Democratic majority is as firm as it has been for the past three sessions.

One of the biggest issues before the legislature, and the one that will get the spotlight earliest, is fixing the state's election system. Secretary of State Mike Coffman (R) announced Dec. 17 that he was de-certifying electronic voting machines used in many counties around the state. Legislators will have to decide whether to conduct the 2008 general election as a traditional paper-based, polling place affair, as an all-mail election, or by means of some combination of those methods.

Another huge issue facing the legislature will be the decision as to which major state financial need - highways, higher education, health care, and K-12 education - justifies a request for a tax increase to be sent to the voters next fall.

There is more to do on Gov. Bill Ritter's "new energy economy." You can expect to see a net-metering bill get a fair amount of attention. A similar bill, which allows electricity users to sell excess power back to their utility, was considered last year.

Senate and House Democrats are certainly going to focus on health care this year. In addition, the majority party is likely to try to give small businesss tax breaks and work on reforms to the public education system, including shortening or eliminating preschool and kindergarten waiting lists, developing a teacher "pay for performance" system and to upgrade school facilities in disrepair.

The "208 Commission," named for the bill that created it, is expected to announce its recommendations for improving health care availability and cost reduction in the state soon.

The GOP minority can be expected to push a bill reversing Gov. Ritter's executive order granting state employees collective bargaining rights. Ritter has said he will sign a bill making it clear that state employees are forbidden to go on strike.

The environmental community will push a "net metering" bill as well as legislation that would require utilities to give homeowners and businesses that install solar power generation equipment a rebate.