Guest column

Surviving the struggle in the state Senate

By Linda Newell
Posted 6/2/15

I knew going into this year’s legislative session that it would be different. I had never served in the minority, I had new committees, and some of my favorite colleagues were no longer there by my side. “Struggle” seemed to be the theme for …

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Guest column

Surviving the struggle in the state Senate

Posted

I knew going into this year’s legislative session that it would be different. I had never served in the minority, I had new committees, and some of my favorite colleagues were no longer there by my side. “Struggle” seemed to be the theme for the legislative session this year. Whether you were in the majority or minority, no one’s bill was safe. With some of the bills, even the citizens weren’t safe.

Overall, there were 692 bills introduced this session, the highest number in my seven years at the Capitol. However, almost 300 of those were killed in committee (some of those mine) or “laid over” on the floor to die on the calendar. Unique to Colorado is the “GAVEL amendment” that requires every bill introduced to have a “fair and public hearing.” In most states, legislators can introduce hundreds of bills, but those might never be seen, hidden in someone’s desk or pocket-vetoed by a committee chair. So, we work harder here and in committees longer.

Unfortunately, most of my bills were double- or triple-assigned, which means that instead of going to one committee for testimony, you have to go to two or three committees before reaching the floor. Why? Did the Republicans not know which committee should hear my bills? Were they trying to thoroughly vet them? Or just attempting to ensure they die? I can’t say, but at one point, I did mention jokingly that they only had to kill a bill once. It’s actually hard not only on the bill sponsor, but also on the witnesses who have to come to testify repeatedly. In spite of that, persistence and bipartisanship paid off with most of them, and many children and families won.

Toil over the budget was hard as well this session. I had to fight to get dollars for eyeglasses for kids at risk or in foster care. Some children have been literally scrounging in lost-and-found boxes at school to find a pair of glasses that might fit them. Eventually, it ended up included in the final package. One item prohibited, though, was funding for the long-acting reversible contraception program, which has put Colorado as the leader in the country for teen pregnancy reduction. With this program, the teen abortion rate has gone down by over 42 percent, and teens have avoided reliance on government services. But it just couldn’t get past committee.

However, it wasn’t always the struggle with my Republican friends, but awkwardly, the governor’s office as well. After years of discussion, months of stakeholder work, and much negotiation, we finally reached a compromise on my Child Protection Ombudsman bill in the last 10 days of the session — to move it from the Department of Human Services to the judicial branch to be a fully independent office.

Evidently now, legislators working for ALL people have to work a bit harder. And what does this mean for Coloradans? You may want to take a closer look at the drama under the dome and let your voice be heard.

Linda Newell is the state senator for Senate District 26, which encompasses Bow Mar, Columbine Valley, Littleton, Englewood, Sheridan, Cherry Hills Village, Greenwood Village, west Centennial and parts of Aurora. She can be reached at 303-866-4846 or at linda.newell.senate@gmail.com.

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