Getting an early take on issues at the Capitol

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On Friday, as a group of editors, managers and the owner of Colorado Community Media met with legislators in the hallowed halls of the Capitol, it occurred to me how much change can be jammed into a short, little span.

With the November election and the Democrats gaining control of both chambers, leadership in the House and Senate has taken on a decidedly different look in the General Assembly session that just started.

For all intents and purposes, the same topics and concerns are likely to surface.

The approach, however, I expect, will raise some eyebrows. And perhaps, some voices.

Because I live and work in Republicanlandia, and travel back and forth between workplaces in Monument and Woodland Park via Ronald Reagan Highway, I often forget how evenly divided, and differently aligned, the state's voters can be.

The state's tale is of two Colorados (though not always the same two) - rural and urban, Front Range and Western Slope, and Democrats and Republican, and so on.

The lines are likely to be drawn over the expected issues:

• Legalization details for marijuana

• Gun control measures

• Death penalty

• Increased school safety

• Civil unions

The fights will also occur in unexpected areas. We received hints of possible work areas during our meeting.

House Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-El Paso County, said he plans to make higher education “an absolute priority.” Because education creates opportunity, he says, he will pursue efforts to establish merit-based scholarships and increase opportunity for technical training, and he thinks bipartisan efforts in these areas will bear fruit.

We also met briefly with other Republican legislators: Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-District 4; Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-District 25; Rep. Carole Murray, R-District 45; and their various communications directors and staff.

Another area of concern is Medicaid and health care, which Gerou said “affects our two largest populations, children and the elderly” and will naturally be a hot topic. Waller also wants to address how returning veterans are dealt with as it relates to mental health, courts and the justice system.

From the Democrats, Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, who replaced Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, as House speaker, sees the focus this session being dominated by jobs and the economy. As his baby crawled around on the speaker's conference room floor, he says he sees opportunity in helping businesses through “economic gardening.”

He pointed to a jobs-training bill proffered by Rep. Pete Lee, D-District 18, and other efforts aimed at job training and reducing the skills gap. Ferrandino also cited K-12 education as being severely and seriously underfunded, and expects to tackle that, perhaps even with bipartisan efforts.

One of the most difficult jobs is going to be figuring out what to do after voters' approval of marijuana for recreational use by adults. Rep. Dan Pabon, D-District 4, says he volunteered to serve on a 24-member, bipartisan task force that includes perspectives from health care, law enforcement and other government and non-government disciplines. And sifting though public policy decisions and recommendations regarding how to deal with issues related to potency, law enforcement, employee relations and more might be a serious test for the new industry.

And then, of course, there is transportation, where a plan is in the works to free up nearly $300 million in development funds for road projects.

As Rep. Max Tyler, D-District 23, and chair of the Transportation Committee, observed, “Everyone is the parent of a good idea.”

Rob Carrigan is the editor and publisher of the Pikes Peak Courier-View and the Tri-Lakes Tribune, Colorado Community Media publications. He can be reached at rcarrigan@ourcoloradonews.com