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Legislators to watch in 2010

A mixture of new and old voices will be heard on key education issues during the 2010 legislative session.

The House and Senate education committees each have two new members for this session, but the more significant changes seem to be on the Senate side.

Sens. Michael Johnston and Pat Steadman, both Denver Democrats, were appointed to the legislature last summer and will serve on Senate Ed.

Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver

Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver

Johnston has quickly gained a high profile because he’s sponsoring the teacher quality legislation that’s expected to be the top education policy issue for lawmakers this year. Johnston is a former Mapleton principal, a teacher and sometime education advisor to the Obama administration.

Steadman was a veteran lobbyist on education and human services issues and is expected to be an informed and active participant in education debates, despite his freshman status.

The two will take the committee seats vacated by former Senate President Peter Groff, D-Denver, and Sen. Chris Romer, also a Denver Democrat. Groff, who had a major impact on education reform legislation in recent sessions, resigned from the legislature to take a job with the U.S. Department of Education. Romer, Groff’s

ally on many education reform issues, has shifted his focus to budget issues this session and also has gotten tangled in the messy discussions over medical marijuana regulation.

Veteran lawmaker Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, remains as chair of Senate Ed, but Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, has moved into the vice chair post. A former member of the State Board of Education, the hard-working Hudak seems to have interest in every piece of education legislation.

Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, is expected to be heavily involved this session in fiscal reform issues, including a proposal to create a special commission to study financial provisions of the state constitution and recommend changes to voters.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs

On the Republican side of the committee table, Sens. Keith King of Colorado Springs and Nancy Spence of Centennial will be heavily involved in school finance and education reform discussions, likely allying with Johnston on some issues. King also will be a voice in higher education discussions.

Outside the committee, Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, will be the central figure in the debate over college and university financial flexibility legislation.

The Democratic majority on the House Education Committee contains the same lineup as last session, headed by chair Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs. Merrifield is the only member of either education committee who is term limited after this session, so 2010 will be the last act of what’s been an influential legislative career, especially since Democrats gained the House majority earlier in the decade.

Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs

Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs

House Ed generally takes a more traditional view on school governance and education reform issues, so one key test of any reform proposal’s viability is whether it can pass the committee. Merrifield has been working with Johnston on teacher quality legislation.

Other key Democratic players on House Ed are expected to be Reps. Christine Scanlan of Dillon and Karen Middleton of Aurora. Scanlan was a prime sponsor of the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, and Middleton chaired the Interim Committee on School Finance last summer.

Among the Republicans, Rep. Tom Massey, R-Pagosa Springs, has been influential and successful in working with the other party and is expected to cosponsor some key pieces of legislation with Democrats.

The two new Republicans on the panel are Reps. Frank McNulty of Highlands Ranch and Scott Tipton of Cortez. McNulty, a conservative with a sharp sense of humor and a reputation for partisan jabs, may prove to be an interesting foil for Merrifield.

Another key House member who’s serving in his last session is Speaker Terrence Carroll, D-Denver, a partner with Groff on education reform initiatives during the last two sessions. Carroll, an advocate of charter schools, is expected to cosponsor charter school regulatory legislation this session.

Of course, the six members of the Joint Budget Committee play a powerful role on education budget issues, perhaps more so this year because of the state’s budget crisis and the prospect of significant cuts in both K-12 and higher education spending. Three of the four Democrats on the JBC are term limited.

Members of the three committees

House Education

Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, chair
Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, vice chair
Rep. Debbie Benefield, D-Arvada
Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora
Rep. Cherylin Peniston, D-Westminster
Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon
Rep. Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge
Rep Nancy Todd, D-Aurora
Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch
Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs
Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock
Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood
Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez

Senate Education

Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, chair
Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, vice chair
Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder
Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver
Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver
Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs
Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker
Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial

Joint Budget

Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, chair
Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, vice chair
Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver
Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs
Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo
Sen. Al White, R- Hayden

Legislative directory and contact information

EdNews 2010 legislative preview