Legislative Briefs: 3.30.12
MEDICAID REFORM TO HOUSE FLOOR
The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday unanimously backed legislation that aims to bring reforms to the Medicaid program.
The bipartisan House Bill 1281, sponsored by Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, and Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, would allow current Medicaid providers to come up with innovative solutions to provide better care at lower costs for current Medicaid patients. It would also reinforce the financial solvency of the state’s Medicaid providers, helping make significant reforms to Medicaid and help control the effects of budgetary pressures, according to sponsors.
“This bill is a huge step forward in reforming Medicaid and ensuring that Colorado consumers get a better bang for their health care buck while allowing the market to work in a way that promotes innovation and quality of care,” Young said.
The bill now moves to the House floor for debate.
DEMS FRUSTRATED GOP KILLING BILLS
House Democrats are frustrated that Republicans in the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Wednesday killed two bills that they say had “ample support.”
The first bill, Senate Bill 143, sponsored by Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, and Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, would have directed the Office of Economic Development to provide information online featuring any non-confidential, non-proprietary data pertaining to Colorado-based businesses. The bill would have also directed OEDIT to compile and publish the data in formats the private sector could easily access.
“Senate Bill 143 is about providing government transparency while supporting and fostering innovation in the private sector,” Pabon said. “This bill simply makes this data more accessible to the private sector and lets the market do the rest.”
The second bill, House Bill 1245, sponsored by Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, would have created a 13-member task force comprised of various stakeholders to look at innovative new strategies to control costs of health insurance premiums for both state and local government employees. The task force would have met in the 2012 interim to study issues involving the pooling of resources among government employees in the state to purchase health care insurance. It then would have reported its findings and recommendations to the Legislature.
“The goal is to reduce cost and lower expenses to ultimately enhance health care outcomes,” Fields said. “This task force would have been a powerful tool to curb costs and look at innovative ways to obtain better quality health care insurance.”
HOUSE COMMITTEE KILLS VOTER ROLLS BILL
The House Local Government Committee on Wednesday killed legislation aimed at assisting active duty military service members and senior citizens.
Senate Bill 109, sponsored by Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, and Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, would have eliminated the “Inactive Failed-to-Vote” status so that going forward, Coloradans would only be inactivated on voter rolls if they moved to a different address and didn’t update their record. Second, it would have used the efficient National Change of Address data provided by the United States Postal Service to update voters’ addresses, ensuring cleaner voter rolls and decreasing undeliverable ballots, according to sponsors.
The bill had previously passed the Senate with a bipartisan 24-10 vote. But the House Local Government committee killed the legislation on a 6-5 Republican party-line vote.
“This was a no-brainer bill that would have facilitated access to ballots for many Coloradans including active duty service members and senior citizens, which was supported by clerks and recorders from the very counties where several committee Republicans live,” Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, said. “It’s a sad day for fair elections in Colorado.”
INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE BILL TO GOVERNOR
The House on Tuesday unanimously backed a bill that would allow for the instruction of indigenous languages in schools.
Senate Bill 57, sponsored by Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Durango, and Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, would allow the Department of Education to issue a Native American language and culture instruction authorization to individuals meeting certain guidelines. Anyone who can demonstrate expertise in a Native American language may apply for authorization and teach the language.
“Students who wish to learn a Native American language should have the same access as those who wish to learn traditional languages taught in Colorado public schools,” said Brown. “Including indigenous language instruction in our education system enriches our schools and honors Native America culture.”
Senate Bill 57 now awaits the governor's signature.
NATIVE AMERICAN TUITION RESOLUTION PASSES HOUSE
The House on Tuesday backed a resolution that encourages Congress to help Colorado cover the costs of reimbursing Fort Lewis College for the federal Native American tuition waiver program.
House Joint Resolution 1016, sponsored by Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, would encourage the passage of two congressional bills that would help Colorado and Fort Lewis College cover the costs of providing a tuition-free education to Native Americans from around the country. The resolution in Congress is House Resolution 3040, sponsored by Congressman Scott Tipton, R-CD 3, and Senate Bill 484, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
“This is a truly remarkable program that Colorado has helped Fort Lewis College provide to Native Americans across the country for more than 100 years,” said Gerou, who chairs the Joint Budget Committee. “We need to ensure the federal government covers its fair share of providing this opportunity to our country’s Native American students.”
ROCKIES PLATES MOVING ALONG
The House on Wednesday, and then the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday gave approval to a bill that would create Colorado Rockies special license plates.
House Bill 1295, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, and Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, would create a onetime charitable donation of $52.80 for users to give to the Colorado Rockies Baseball Foundation, a charitable organization that helps underprivileged and at-risk youth. In addition to the one-time charitable donation drivers would need to pay for the license plate, and two onetime motor vehicle fees of $25 would also apply.
“Colorado Rockies baseball is important to many people in the Rocky Mountain West,” said Priola. “This bill allows Coloradans to show their home team pride and help kids at the same time.”
HOUSE BACKS LOWER LATE FEES
The House on Thursday gave final approval to a measure that would reduce late vehicle registration fees put in place in 2009 by Democrats with the so-called FASTER bill.
House Bill 1014, sponsored by Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Cowdrey, would reduce the late fees from as high as $100, and caps it at a flat fee of $20.
The House backed the measure on a vote of 39-25.
“Many Coloradans are unable to register their vehicles on time because they’re struggling to make ends meet,” said Baumgardner. “This bill is meant to reduce excessive penalties on working families and small business owners.”
ENERGY OFFICE RESTRUCTURE MOVING
The House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday backed a bill that would reorganize the Governor’s Energy Office.
House Bill 1315, sponsored by Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, would change the name of the Governor’s Energy Office to the Colorado Energy Office. It would prescribe the office’s role as promoting traditional and renewable energy, spurring economic development and job creation, increasing energy security, lowering long-term consumer costs, protecting the environment and creating a balanced energy portfolio for Colorado’s energy future.
The measure passed the committee on a 10-2 vote and now moves to appropriations.
“This bill is meant to improve efficiency within the Governor’s Energy Office,” commented Becker. “By amending the current mission, we are promoting sound and sensible solutions for Colorado’s energy economy.”
SMALL BIZZ FINES BILL MOVES
The House Finance Committee on Wednesday backed a bill that supporters say emphasizes compliance over punishment for small businesses.
House Bill 1119, sponsored by Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, would prohibit the Colorado Department of Health and Environment from imposing a fine for violations that do not harm or threaten public health or safety if the agency determines that the business made a good faith effort to comply with the state law or rule, and the business cures the violation within 20 business days of receiving the notice of violation.
The bill passed the committee by a vote of 8-5. It now heads to appropriations.
“If a small business owner makes a good faith effort to comply with state rules and regulations and no harm was caused, they shouldn’t be slapped with a fine right away,” said Coram. “The SUCCESS Act allows for minor infractions to be quickly corrected, before being issued a fine.”
EMBATTLED LAWMAKER WON'T SEEK REELECTION
Embattled Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Colbran, announced Thursday that she will not seek reelection in 2012 in order to spend time with her ailing husband.
Bradford made headlines this year after being accused of driving under the influence of alcohol. She was later exonerated of ethics violations related to the allegation, and the Denver Police Department never had concrete evidence that she was driving under the influence, though a police report stated that the officer believed she was driving drunk.
Shortly after the incident, Bradford’s husband, Linton Matthews, suffered a heart attack.
“While I love serving my constituents in the state Capitol, my first priority is my family and ensuring that my husband is in good health,” said Bradford.
“Serving the people of House District 55 has been one of the greatest experiences of my life,” she continued. “Few people have been able to serve in the Colorado General Assembly, and I count myself honored and blessed to have had this opportunity.”
WILDLIFE SPORTING LICENSE PLATE MOVES
The Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday unanimously backed a bill that would create a Colorado Wildlife Sporting license plate.
House Bill 1275, sponsored by Sen. Jean White, R-Winter Park, would create the license plate, which would be available to residents throughout Colorado who would like to show their support for sportsmen and women.
“This is a great bill that will promote hunting and fishing in Colorado, while also giving sportsmen and women the opportunity to show support for their sport,” said White. “HB 1275 will increase opportunities for all Coloradans to participate in wildlife sports.”
The initial cost for the plate would be $60. A portion of the money collected from the plate would go to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife fund to develop more public shooting ranges and expand and promote fishing in Colorado.
The measure now moves to finance.
SEN. STEVE KING CHOSEN FOR SECURITY SEMINAR
Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, was chosen by the U.S. Army War College to participate in a National Security Seminar in an effort to enable new members to become personally acquainted with future leaders of the armed forces.
Over the course of four days, leading citizens from across the U.S. will hear from international security experts. They will discuss national security issues as well as international and domestic defense issues. King was one of 160 people in the country invited to attend the seminar, which will be held this summer at the Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania.
“I am honored to have been chosen to participate in this important effort,” said King. “It will be a unique opportunity to learn more about national security issues and provide more insight in to what we can do to ensure safety within our country and state.”
ELECTION CLEAN-UP BILL TO FLOOR
Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler on Thursday applauded the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs committee for approving an election clean-up bill.
House Bill 1293, sponsored by Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, unanimously passed the committee. It would clarify recall procedures and “rationalize” election timelines.
“We’re continuing to make strides and improve election administration in Colorado,” Gessler said. “I appreciate the bi-partisan work from legislators and the support from the county clerks association in pressing this legislation forward.”
HB 1293 now heads to the House floor for debate.
HOUSE GOP KILLS WELFARE DRUG TEST BILL
House Republicans on Thursday surprisingly killed GOP-sponsored legislation that would have required welfare recipients to be drug tested.
House Bill 1046, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, would have required applicants to the Colorado Works program to pass a drug test to qualify for benefits.
When the bill came to a voice vote, Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, who had the gavel, ruled that the “no” votes had it — an unusual move when it’s routine to rule in favor of the majority party on voice votes that would fail a decibel-meter test.
HICK SUSPENDS PRESCRIBED BURNS
Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday joined Colorado State University, which oversees the Colorado State Forest Service, to call for an independent review into the circumstances that led to the Lower North Fork Fire.
Forest officials have accepted blame for the raging fire that has killed at least two people. Officials said the fire started from a prescribed burn conducted last week by the Colorado State Forest Service.
Work is underway to assemble the independent review team and members will be identified in the near future, according to the governor's office.
The governor on Wednesday also suspended the use of prescribed burns by state agencies on state lands — including state parks, refuges, State Land Board lands and any agency that manages lands — or under contract on non-state lands, such as by the Colorado State Forest Service. The suspension will be effective until a review of the protocols and procedures of prescribed burning is complete.
While this suspension applies only to state agencies and state lands, other non-state land agencies, such as county lands, federal lands and private lands, should examine their own procedures and consider appropriate steps, the governor's office said.
“The loss of life and property this week is devastating and this fire is far from being contained. That’s why our top priority remains working to control the blaze,” Hickenlooper said. “We have made every resource available to firefighters and continue to coordinate the response with local and federal authorities.
BUDGET COMPROMISE REACHED
Republicans and Democrats on the Joint Budget Committee reached a compromise on the 2012-13 fiscal year budget that both sides say will spare layoffs of state employees.
The compromise calls for a reduction of 1 percent in state agencies’ “personal services” budget lines. The Judicial Department’s reduction would be one half of one percent. The deal would also exempt departments that provide emergency services and are on call 24/7, like the State Patrol, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Human Services. Also exempt would be departments and agencies with 20 or fewer employees.
Also part of the deal is an additional $23.2 million for higher education and $9.7 million in aid to needy seniors. Agreement also appeared imminent on a $59 million deposit into the state education fund; a $25 million transfusion for the state’s controlled maintenance fund; and increased funding for tourism and the creative industries.
The action ended a four-day standoff in the budget-writing committee, which is split 3-3 between Democrats and Republicans.
“We worked with our Republican colleagues in a thoughtful and deliberative way to protect Colorado jobs, balance the budget, and eliminate some of the more egregious cuts we were contemplating,” said JBC member Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton. “Our goal all along has been to protect jobs. I'm happy we have found a bipartisan agreement to avoid layoffs, protect seniors and support students. I look forward to the process as it moves forward.”
“I believe Coloradans will be proud of this budget,” said Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, chairwoman of the JBC. “This is a responsible and fair budget for everyone.”
The budget is expected to be introduced in the House on April 4.
EARLY CHILDHOOD BILL PASSES SENATE
The Senate on Monday passed a measure that would consolidate the state’s early childhood service programs into one office.
Senate Bill 130, sponsored by Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, would consolidate the state’s early childhood programs into the Office of Early Childhood, with the goal of better coordinating efforts and collaboration to improve the health, safety and welfare of Colorado’s most vulnerable children. There is currently multiple child service funding sources spread across several departments.
The Senate backed SB 130 on a vote of 23-12.
“I’m pleased to see this legislation pass through the Senate, because by combining our early childhood programs into one office we can streamline processes and make services more efficient,” said Hodge. “For many Colorado families these programs are vital so it’s important that we continue to improve them and increase accessibility.”
VICTIM’S RIGHTS BILL BACKED BY SENATE
The Senate on Tuesday gave final approval to a measure that aims to increase protections for victims in Colorado.
House Bill 1053, sponsored by Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, would update the existing Victim’s Rights Act to add new crimes to the law, expand definitions, increase protections for victims’ identities, increase the level of victim input and clarify victims’ rights throughout the criminal justice process. The bill would add the crimes of trafficking in adults, trafficking in children, first-degree burglary, retaliation against a judge, and retaliation against a juror to the current victim’s rights statutes. The new bill also would require criminal records keepers to remove victims’ Social Security numbers, provide victims the right to have their address removed, and to be informed about protection services. The bill would also add e-mail as an acceptable means of providing victims with information related to criminal proceedings, and increases and clarifies victims’ rights in criminal proceedings.
“This bipartisan bill is of particular significance because it revises the existing Victim’s Rights Act to better protect victims in various parts of the criminal justice process and identifies which criminal justice agencies are responsible for ensuring that victim rights are upheld in the State of Colorado,” said Giron.
The House must not approve amendments to HB 1053.
ELDER ABUSE BILL BACKED BY SENATE
The Senate on Tuesday backed a measure that aims to increase protections for at-risk adults, such as the elderly.
Senate Bill 78, sponsored by Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, would establish the Elder Abuse Task Force to make recommendations for creating a system for mandatory reporting of at-risk elders in Colorado by 2013. The measure would also create a provision that requires individuals working with at-risk adults to complete a criminal history check.
“Elder abuse is a problem in our communities, and we lawmakers need to address this issue,” said Hudak. “The task force created by this bill will provide us with the information necessary to create a mandatory reporting statute in Colorado and protect some of our most vulnerable populations.”
The House must now approve SB 78.
NEWELL MEETS WITH BUSINESS COMMUNITY
Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, on Tuesday attended the South Denver Metro Chamber Legislative Action Committee meeting. This committee reviews all business-related bills being heard in the Legislature.
Newell said she discussed several of her jobs bills, including the Colorado Business Retention and Expansion Act, the Film Production Activities in Colorado Act and the Skills for Jobs Act. These bills aim to create a program to provide support for existing businesses in Colorado, incentivize film production in Colorado and help businesses find qualified workers by creating communication between the State Department of Labor and the Department of Higher Education.
“As a business professional I understand the importance of creating a supportive and friendly environment for business,” said Newell. “This meeting was an excellent opportunity for me to meet with my community members and business leaders to present bills I’m carrying this session to create new jobs and continue growing the economy.”
WOMEN IN SPORTS HONORED
The House on Friday backed a resolution celebrating the importance of girls and women’s athletics.
House Joint Resolution 1018, sponsored by Reps. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, and Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge, declares Colorado’s appreciation for women in sports. The resolution came on the eve of the 40th anniversary of Title IX, a measure that provides women with equal opportunities in athletics.
“Participation in sports gives girls and women countless benefits and skills they’ll rely on for their entire life,” said Murray. “Athletics give us the rewards of competition, sportsmanship, leadership and the benefits of camaraderie.”
HJR 1018 was passed while Colorado prepares to host the 2012 NCAA Women’s Basketball Division I Championship on April 1 and April 3. Colorado will also host the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association conference, and the Women’s Final Four Leadership Academy in order to provide a forum for the region’s youth, high school athletes and coaches to access key NCAA decision-makers.
The resolution will be sent to sports organizations across the nation and State of Colorado, including the High School Activities Association, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the United States Olympic Committee.