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Colorado legislature opens Wednesday with a floods-and- firearms theme

By Lynn Bartels and Kurtis Lee 
The Denver Post

The session will open on a historic note: All three new faces in the Senate — Republicans Bernie Herpin and George Rivera and Democrat Rachel Zenzinger — took office after efforts to recall three Democratic lawmakers who voted for stricter gun laws.

But legislative leaders agree there are plenty of opportunities for bipartisan efforts.

"Floodwaters did not discriminate between Democrat and Republican counties. It's something we should be doing together," said House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver. "Flood recovery will be one of the first things we deal with in the legislative session."

September's floods impacted 24 counties and killed 10 people. To date, millions of dollars in state and federal money have gone toward the disaster recovery.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, said much of what the legislature does every year — such as the budget — passes with support from both sides of the aisle.

"I think we're pretty supportive of a lot of the stuff the governor has proposed," he said.

A framer makes a cut at a new home being built at E. 32nd Avenue in the Stapleton neighborhood of Denver in 2012. (Cyrus McCrimmon, Denver Post file photo)

That includes increasing the state's statutory reserve account from 5 percent to 6.5 percent and a bigger investment in K-12 education by using some of the unspent balance in the state's education fund, Cadman said.

With the failure of Amendment 66, a $950 million tax increase for public schools, legislators now are setting their sights on addressing K-12 education within the financial parameters of Colorado's improving economy.

"The biggest challenge is going to be school finance," said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, chair of the House Education Committee. "Fortunately, the economy is slowly picking up, but it's a challenge to get the appropriate amount of money into schools."

Although most education activity likely won't unfold until after the state sees its March revenue projections, some pieces of Senate Bill 213 — the legislative basis for Amendment 66 that won votes during last year's session solely from Democrats — will re-emerge with bipartisan support.

"Some education issues shouldn't be party against party," said Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley.

With significant reserves in the state education fund, lawmakers could use this pot of money to initiate some of the bill's more popular elements, such as a rolling student count system rather than a single count day for purposes of school funding. A financial transparency website that tracks money to the individual school level also proved popular.

Read more: Colorado legislature opens Wednesday with a floods-and- firearms theme - The Denver Post 
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Background Photo Credit: Kasia Broussalian © 2015