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Polis Outlines Ambitious 2020 Agenda, But Partisan Battles Await Him

The Colorado state Capitol at dawn.
Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage
The Colorado state Capitol at dawn.

The opening days of Colorado's legislative session are typically jovial and largely free of partisan politics. The governor capitalized on that mood during his roughly hour-long speech. After an interruption from a heckler in the gallery shouting, "Ban fracking now!" Polis started with a recap of his first year in office.

"Working together last year, we lowered health care costs, lowered taxes for small businesses, provided more affordable housing, made the largest ever state investment in transportation, and delivered universal free full-day kindergarten for all," Polis said.

Statehouse reporter Scott Franz reports on Gov. Polis' 2020 agenda, as well as the partisan battles that might get in way.

This time around he laid out an agenda that includes helping more children get into preschool, giving parents paid family leave — and reducing health care costs with a new public insurance option.

Gov. Jared Polis takes a selfie before his State of the State address on Thursday.
Credit Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage
Gov. Jared Polis takes a selfie before his State of the State address on Thursday.

"We estimate that a public option will ultimately save Coloradans an additional nine to 18% on their individual premiums," he said. "Furthermore, the public option will empower folks in the 22 rural Colorado counties where there is currently only one insurer, and no choice."

But on those subjects, the differences between Democrats — who hold the majority — and Republicans start to surface.

"We hear things from the governor that are clearly going to take money out of the pockets of working families in Colorado and distribute them to others the governor thinks are more deserving than the people who earn the money," Sen. Bob Gardner said moments after Polis finished his speech.

Gardner did compliment the governor for his pledge to lower taxes. He also said he heard some other proposals that would be meaningful to working families.

Democrats including Rep. Dylan Roberts liked that Polis is keeping his focus on health care policy in 2020.

"I'm glad that he put in our idea for a public option in his speech and I look forward to working with him to get that bill through to his desk," Roberts said.

So, will the Polis agenda sail through the legislature? There might be some speed bumps ahead.

Partisan battle lines drawn

Even before lawmakers started the session, they were bickering over some of the bigger issues, including transportation funding. At a breakfast event earlier this week, House Minority Leader Patrick Neville and Democratic House Speaker KC Becker clashed over their track records.

"We have everything else on autopilot that increases the budget year after year except for transportation," Neville said. "That's the one thing that always ends up on the back burner and it's time we put it on the front burner."

Becker said Neville's claim is not true.

"In the last three years, our commitment to transportation from the general fund has been almost $3 billion," Becker said.

Other battle lines are being drawn. Democrats like Rep. Roberts are working to pass the new public health insurance option.

"This plan puts some limits on how much hospitals can charge under the plan," he said. "It raises the amount of money that insurance companies have to actually spend on your care."

Roberts represents a Western Slope district with some of the highest health care costs in Colorado. But the state's hospital association and Republican lawmakers like Patrick Neville are vowing to fight it.

"It's going to lead to cost shifts to the private insurance market, and the private market and eventually they are not going to withstand, and they are going to go out of business and this is going to be the only game left in town," Neville said.

There's also some early disagreement over a paid family leave proposal that stalled last year. Even Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, says the bill needs some work.

"I would like to see something that can work, and that's going to require some compromise," he said. "That's going to require some give and take on this bill. Whether it's eight or 12 weeks."

Finally, lawmakers say they will try to move beyond some of the other heated partisan drama from last year. You might remember Republicans asked for a 2,000-page bill to be read at length to try and filibuster an oil and gas bill. So, Democrats brought in computers to speed the process up, and a lawsuit was filed.

Will we see more antics like this? Garcia is hoping his Republican colleagues will move beyond last session.

"Look, there are some lessons to be learned from 2019 and I've said this several times," he said. "I think it's important not to spend a lot of time there but to remind people that there were some who felt those tactics would work and in the end they didn't work. They run the risk of making this building and this fine institution look like that of Washington D.C., which Coloradans don't want to see."

Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Eleven public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado. 

Copyright 2020 KUNC

Scott Franz is a government watchdog reporter and photographer from Steamboat Springs. He spent the last seven years covering politics and government for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a daily newspaper in northwest Colorado. His reporting in Steamboat stopped a police station from being built in a city park, saved a historic barn from being destroyed and helped a small town pastor quickly find a kidney donor. His favorite workday in Steamboat was Tuesday, when he could spend many of his mornings skiing untracked powder and his evenings covering city council meetings. Scott received his journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an outdoorsman who spends at least 20 nights a year in a tent. He spoke his first word, 'outside', as a toddler in Edmonds, Washington. Scott visits the Great Sand Dunes, his favorite Colorado backpacking destination, twice a year. Scott's reporting is part of Capitol Coverage, a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.