Colorado Legislature

Democratic majority can shepherd important measures in 2013 session

Tuesday’s election results changed little for the power dynamics in Washington, D.C., but there was a significant shift in Colorado, one that could usher corresponding policy change that has been languishing for far too long. Democrats took control of the Colorado House of Representatives, building political momentum to pass critical social and civil-rights measures that were defeated or stalled by the Republican-controlled House in previous sessions.

This newfound opportunity was helped in part by Mike McLachlan’s apparent defeat of Rep. J. Paul Brown in the 59th District and could mean that by next May, Colorado will have legislation recognizing civil unions in the state, as well as a bill making in-state college tuition available to some immigrant students. Those would be welcome changes that reflect the shifting demographics in Colorado, as well as a growing statewide – if not nationwide – commitment to justice, fairness and opportunity.

A measure that would have recognized civil unions between same-sex couples failed in the last days of the 2012 legislative session after then-Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, refused to bring the measure to a vote. Had he done so, it likely would have passed with some Republican support. Gov. John Hickenlooper called lawmakers into a special session to take up the matter, but McNulty again obstructed progress, killing it for the year. With Tuesday’s election results, the speaker’s gavel has gone to Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, making him the first openly gay person to hold the position in Colorado. That is a symbolic shift that likely will yield long overdue legislative results.

The Democrats’ reclaiming of power in the House will set the stage for the Legislature to pass in-state tuition for undocumented immigrant children who have lived in the state and attended high school for at least three years. Easing the cost barriers that prevent qualified Colorado students from pursuing higher education is in the state’s best interest in that it encourages young people here to set and achieve academic goals that will yield more professional options after graduation. Doing so boosts the state’s collective level of education and, correspondingly, economic productivity.

With a slightly eased budgetary situation facing lawmakers who head to Denver in January, there will be some breathing room to make this and other changes when the session begins. Importantly, though, lawmakers first can attend to issues of basic fairness. Without ideological opposition that amounts to nothing but discriminatory stonewalling, that progress can come more easily.

We look forward to that momentum building in the 2013 session of the Colorado Legislature.

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