Shortly before the gavel sounded in the newly refurbished Senate chamber, Linda Newell's eyes unexpectedly welled with tears.
"It's hard to leave something that I love so much," she said of the …
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"It's hard to leave something that I love so much," she said of the past eight years as a state senator representing District 26, which includes Littleton, Englewood, Columbine Valley, Bow Mar and a portion of Centennial. "It's become a passion for me, not just a job."
Newell, 58, a Democrat who is term-limited, was among 100 state legislators gathered Wednesday to open Colorado's 70th General Assembly amid ritual and patriotic ceremony at the state Capitol in Denver.
And like the optimistic tenor of bipartisan workmanship underlying opening-day speeches in the Senate and House, Newell looked forward to leaving a record of cooperation.
"I, hopefully, will leave a legacy of nonpartisan, bipartisan work," Newell said. "I'm so proud of the work I've been able to do with collaboration."
Leaders of the two chambers underscored their varying philosophical approaches to dealing with the major issues of budget, affordable housing, transportation and education over the 120-day session.
But several also called for putting the best interests of the state before politics.
"Performing our duties to the best of our abilities means finding the best solutions," Senate President Bill Cadman, a Republican from Colorado Springs, said. "Leadership means finding solutions. It's not about partisan solutions."
"...reasonable people can differ," said House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, a Republican who represents Loveland. "I encourage all of you to welcome our differences and look beyond party affiliation as you consider the merits of legislation this session."
The biggest issue, said Rep. Kim Ransom, a Republican representing Parker and Lone Tree in District 44, will be finding common ground to pass a state budget through the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democrat-controlled House.
"Thank goodness we can't go start raising taxes to meet whatever" funding requests are presented, she said. "The citizens of Colorado are not undertaxed."
In the House, Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, a Democrat from Boulder, strongly urged the chamber to fight to preserve a "Colorado way of life" that brought more than 100,000 newcomers to the state last year.
Doing so, she said, includes ensuring fair workforce regulations, closing offshore tax loopholes that benefit large corporations, providing greater job-training opportunities, eliminating inequity in pay for women and implementing policies to fight climate change.
"Our economy will wither if employers stop hiring Coloradans because we lack the education and training that allow us to compete for high-quality jobs," Hullinghorst said. "Commerce will suffer if our roads are crumbling and overwhelmed by congestion. Our magnificent mountain vistas are worse than worthless if they are hidden under a blanket of smog."
Republican legislators such as Sen. Mark Scheffel, of Parker, have nixed the possibility of moving the hospital provider fee from under the TABOR cap, saying that doing so violates the state Constitution. But Hullinghorst said colleagues should expect to see a bill that would do just that.
It would "give us flexibility" to pay for the state's needs and invest in the future, she said.
For Rep. Max Tyler, a Democrat representing District 23 in Lakewood, a top concern is providing more affordable housing in a state with skyrocketing rents that make it difficult for young people, families and seniors with limited incomes to own their homes.
Because he is term-limited, he feels a sense of urgency — and frustration. Just as he's learned how to navigate the job, he must leave.
"It's the most complex, amazing, wonderful job I've had in my whole life — to be able to make a difference for the people of Colorado," Tyler, 68, said. "It's a shame to be walking away with what I've learned."
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