In what was his most substantive and wide-ranging State of the State address ever, Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday took on the issues of gun control, Medicaid, tuition for illegal immigrants, child welfare and constitutional reform, among other topics.
The Democratic governor even found room to praise the Denver Broncos in his third such address to the legislature, which lasted nearly 42 minutes.
Hickenlooper called for a moment of silence in the House chamber to remember those who died in Colorado wildfires and in the Aurora shooting massacre. The mayor, police chief and fire chief of Aurora were present for the governor's annual address.
As he has done in previous speeches, Hickenlooper tried to radiate a level of optimism in his address.
Photos: Gov. John Hickenlooper
"Speaking of faith and recovery, the inspirational renewal of the Denver Broncos parallels our state's economic rebound," the governor said. "After a historic recession and several challenging years, our economy is back."
Republicans disputed that assessment later.
House Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, noted the state still has a 7.7 percent rate of unemployment.
"That's not a signal to me that our economy is back," Waller said. "We need to get that unemployment rate down under 4 percent in order for us to truly say the economy is back."
The governor received a standing ovation, at least among Democrats, when he called for background checks on all gun sales. Currently, people who purchase guns from individuals are not required to undergo background checks. But Republicans did applaud Hickenlooper when he called for strengthening the state's mental-health system in hopes of catching would-be assailants sooner.
"Surely, Second Amendment advocates and gun-control supporters can find common ground in support of this proposition: Let's examine our laws and make the changes needed to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people," Hickenlooper said. "It's not enough to prevent dangerous people from getting weapons. We have to do a better job of identifying and helping people who are a threat to themselves and others."
The governor also called on lawmakers to:
• Pass legislation allowing civil unions for same-sex couples.
• Reform the state's enterprise-zone laws, which give tax incentives to businesses.
• "Find an equitable and fair way for undocumented kids" to attend college in Colorado.
• Help reform the state's child-welfare system, whose failings were outlined in The Denver Post/9News investigative project "Failed to Death."
• Pass oil and gas regulations that are "fair, rational and based on science."
Hickenlooper brought up the issue of constitutional reform, saying the state is on an "unsustainable fiscal course" with conflicting amendments that restrain the budget while simultaneously requiring greater spending. Any rewrite of the state funding formula for schools should take this into account, he said.
The governor also called on lawmakers to work together on expanding Medicaid eligibility, a move that he said could be done in tandem with cost savings. Republicans, now in the minority in both chambers, adamantly oppose the expansion.
Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, said the governor's plea for constitutional reform seemed a disconnect with his desire to expand Medicaid.
"We have a real serious conflict between the governor who says we are on an unsustainable fiscal course and in the same speech he's talking about expanding the largest-growing unfunded program in the state with Medicaid expansion," Cadman said. "How do we tie our wagon to a train that's definitely going to crash?"
The governor also called for cooperation on crafting a framework of regulations for the limited sale and possession of marijuana, which voters legalized in November.
"We are determined to implement this new law in a way that promotes the health and safety of all Coloradans," he said.
And the Democratic governor dismissed suggestions that he'd had a honeymoon for his first two years, when a divided legislature kept many controversial issues from ever coming to his desk.
"They say I got lucky — but I don't see it that way," Hickenlooper said. "Our blessing was not divided government in the last two years; our blessing was in the many relationships we formed with lawmakers from both parties — and that you have with each other."
The former brewpub owner concluded, "These relationships endure. They span the geography of our state, and they transcend political affiliation. And they've been nourished by our working together — helped along every once in a while by a cold Colorado beer."
The governor made no mention of repealing the death penalty, an issue some Democrats are talking about. Hickenlooper has said previously he is still struggling with the issue.