The Colorado House of Representatives opened the 2013 legislative session with its first gay speaker, Democrats back in power and 27 new members.
Newly sworn-in House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, noted his historic moment in history as the state's first gay House speaker, but he lamented that two of his family members, older brother Michael and grandfather, Teddy D'Amore, were not present.
The speaker also discussed his philosophy of governing and outlined plans for a bipartisan session after receiving the gavel from outgoing speaker, Republican Frank McNulty.
"They are the more conservative members of the family, and my arguments with them have prepared me for the coming discussions with Minority (Mark) Leader Waller," Ferrandino said in his speech.
The new speaker said a debate on the size and scope of government was good, "But to blindly and cynically condemn government is to willfully ignore the many ways it makes our lives more secure and contributes to our shared prosperity. Likewise, to blindly defend government is to ignore the fact that, like any human institution, it can be improved."
He said an improving state budget will allow for the restoration of some programs like education, and said it also will allow for about 800 more people with developmental disabilities to finally start receiving state services.
"But we still face a structural budget crisis," Ferrandino said. "And we won't be able to climb all the way back — ever — unless we address its causes. So we'll continue to have unmet needs in our classrooms, our colleges, and in critical areas like developmental and mental health services. Ultimately, that should be unacceptable to all of us."
Ferrandino even quoted a conservative icon, the author of "Atlas Shrugged."
"One of my favorite authors, Ayn Rand, wrote: 'The political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities.'
"In thatspirit," Ferrandino said, "we must acknowledge that all committed couples deserve equal protection under the law, forever end Colorado's 'hate state' nickname, and, with bipartisan cooperation, pass civil unions this year."
And Ferrandino bluntly said the House would discuss gun control legislation, a topic that is now in the national spotlight following mass shootings in Aurora and Connecticut. Gun rights activists planned to hold a rally outside the Capitol later in the day.
"The Second Amendment is sacrosanct," Ferrandino said. "But so is the First. It is our right — and the time is right — to speak openly and honestly about how we can curb the gun violence that costs our communities far too many sons and daughters.
"We have to seek consensus about how to prevent more horrors like the shootings in Aurora and Newtown. That conversation will include guns and mental health."
The speaker also called for making it easier for Colorado high school students who are illegal immigrants to attend college, referring to legislation to allow such students to pay less than out-of-state tuition.
"We have to implement major parts of the Affordable Care Act, fondly referred to by some as Obamacare," Ferrandino said. "Whatever you call it, it will enhance health care for hundreds of thousands of Coloradans and make the cost of care more affordable."
Waller, R-Colorado Springs, the new minority leader in the House, cited far fewer specific legislative initiatives in his speech and called for an end to "poltical grandstanding."
"I pledge to you that House Republicans will do everything in our power to build the coalitions we need to strengthen our state together," he said.
"I am under no illusion that our work this session will be easy, but I know that we have worked together in the past, and I know we can do it again this year."
Waller called broadly for funding "merit-based scholarships" for Colorado college students.
"We need to ensure that all students in Colorado, whether they live in an urban or rural area, have the opportunity to challenge themselves by taking advanced placement courses," he said. "And we need to ensure that every Colorado student in an English language learning program is given the tools and skill set they'll need to succeed in the future."
Waller said there needs to be an "all-of-the-above" energy policy that recognizes renewable energy but also remembers the importance of traditional energy sources like oil and gas.
And the minority leader reiterated his previous calls for cutting the state's prison budget and shifting those resources to other areas.
"Imagine how much better a place this world would be if we spent fewer dollars on prison beds and, in turn, used those dollars for desks in the classroom," he said.