LEGISLATIVE BRIEFS: 4.6.12
POLITICAL CHESS OVER INACTIVE VOTERS
Statehouse Democrats are said to be playing a game of political chess, with the ultimate goal of allowing counties to mail ballots to an estimated 439,560 so-called “inactive voters.”
The political strategy focuses around House Bill 1267, sponsored by Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City. The measure aimed to make a series of reforms to elections practices in Colorado, including reducing the time for early voting, a move supported by conservative Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who pushed the proposal as a means to save clerks money. Many Democrats oppose the proposal.
On Monday, Grantham asked the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee to kill his own legislation. His exact reason for killing the bill is unclear, but concerns have been raised that Democrats were going to try to “hijack” the legislation in order to attach an amendment that would include language addressing mailing ballots to inactive voters.
Gessler wants to prevent county clerks from mailing ballots to voters who did not vote in the 2010 general election and who failed to respond to postcard notifications stating their inactivity. Colorado voters who miss an even-year general election are labeled “inactive.” Gessler asked county clerks to stop mailing ballots to inactive voters in a cost-savings measure.
Some county clerks, however, have opposed the move, arguing that the voters are still registered and deserve a chance at a mail-in ballot.
Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, attempted to clarify this point in Senate Bill 109, also sponsored by Coram, which would have declared those inactive voters as being active voters. But SB 109 died on March 28 in the House Local Government Committee on a 6-5 Republican party-line vote.
This is where HB 1267 comes into play. Even though Grantham asked to kill his own legislation on Monday, Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, offered a motion on Wednesday to resurrect and reconsider HB 1267, a move the committee backed on a 3-2 Democratic party-line vote. The Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee is likely to hear HB 1267 on Monday.
Assuming HB 1267 is amended to include the inactive voter language, and assuming the Democratic-controlled Senate committee will send it to the Senate floor where it is likely to be backed by controlling Democrats, then the amended measure would go straight back to the House floor for debate, skipping the committee process, as the measure was already backed by the full House on March 22.
It is here that Coram’s vote would become so critical. Having co-sponsored SB 109 with Johnston, which aimed to declare inactive voters who failed to vote as active voters, then it is entirely possible that Coram would vote in favor of the amended HB 1267.
Coram has not said publicly what he plans on doing if that scenario presents itself.
TEACHER STIPEND BILL PASSES HOUSE
The House on Monday unanimously backed legislation that aims to support teachers who complete national certification standards.
House Bill 1261, sponsored by Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, would extend a stipend program to teachers who complete the rigorous National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification and who commit to teach in low-performing Colorado schools.
“We want to put our best teachers where we need them most,” said Solano, a 29-year teacher. “With all the state mandates placed on teachers, it’s time we showed them some support."
HB 1261 now heads to the Senate for consideration.
WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT BILL SIGNED
The governor on Monday signed a bill aimed at developing workforce projections to assist colleges and vocational schools.
House Bill 1061, sponsored by Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Englewood, and Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, will direct the Department of Higher Education and the Department of Labor to develop workforce projections, using data already being collected. Colleges and vocational schools can use the reports to adjust their course offerings, students can use them to make better career choices and course-selection decisions and businesses can use them to make smarter personnel decisions, according to supporters.
“I am very pleased to have this bill signed that will ensure we have an education system more in tune with the marketplace and a workforce better trained for the jobs that are in demand,” Kagan said. “This bill will connect Coloradans with training and education for jobs in need, and that’s something that is crucial in continuing to grow Colorado’s economy.”
“We are helping connect Coloradans to good-paying jobs,” said Newell. “The Skills for Jobs Act will help employees find fully qualified Colorado workers for the jobs they need to fill, and it will help Colorado’s students, including those who decide to retrain, to choose a career that’s marketable.”
WORKFORCE TRAINING BILL MOVES
House Bill 1272, sponsored by Reps. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, and Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster, would invest $8 million in enhanced unemployment benefits for unemployed people who want workforce or entrepreneurial training. The bill would help those currently out of work get the training they need to get back into the workforce while also receiving unemployment benefits, according to sponsors. The measure would extend Colorado’s enhanced unemployment benefits program into 2014. In the program, claimants could receive up to 50 percent more on their weekly unemployment benefit for up to 20 weeks if they are actively engaged in an approved training program.
The bill passed the House on a vote of 48-16 and now moves to the Senate for consideration.
“This bill is an innovative and creative approach to ensuring we are doing everything possible to get Coloradans back to work,” Duran said. “People who are unemployed want to get back to work, but they need skills for the jobs available. This program will guarantee they can get that training.”
“This bill opens up avenues to employment for Coloradans without a job,” said Ramirez. “Right now, to qualify for unemployment benefits, you can’t participate in an unpaid internship or apprenticeship. You can only sit idly and fill out applications. This bill corrects this lapse and puts people back on their feet.”
‘AMAZON TAX’ STRUCK DOWN
House Republicans this week cheered a ruling on March 30 by a federal judge that declared the so-called “Amazon Tax” unconstitutional.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Blackburn ruled that the tax discriminated against out-of-state online retailers and created an undue burden on interstate commerce, violating the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Democrats enacted the tax in 2010, requiring out-of-state online retailers to collect a sales tax on Internet purchases while also requiring reporting and notifications of taxes collected. The measure was part of a package of bills pushed by Democrats, dubbed the “Dirty Dozen” by Republicans because of the fees created and elimination of tax breaks in the suite of legislation.
“Another one down,” said Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument. “This week’s decision by the District Court is a win for Colorado families.”
“Ruling the Amazon Tax unconstitutional is a huge win for small business and new business startups,” added Stephens. “Amazon has said from the start of this debate in Colorado that this is an issue best settled at the federal level and, clearly, the courts agreed.”
FILM INCENTIVES BILL MOVES
The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday backed a bill that aims to incentivize film and video game production in Colorado.
House Bill 1286, sponsored by Reps. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, and Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, would increase the state's incentive rate for the film industry from 10 to 20 percent. It also would create a loan guarantee program where Colorado would take an upfront 5 percent facility fee, paid by the production company in exchange for the guarantee, and then a bank, not the state, would provide the loan.
The measure passed the committee on a vote of 10-3. House Appropriations voted to fund the program at $3 million, which is administered by the Colorado Office of Film, Television, and Media Operational Account Cash Fund.
“Encouraging more film production in Colorado brings good jobs, good paychecks, and notoriety to Colorado for our state’s natural beauty,” Ferrandino said. “This morning’s decision to fund our film incentives program is a great example of Democrats and Republicans working together to keep Colorado’s economy going and get more Coloradans back to work.”
ROX GET OPENING DAY PROCLAMATION
Gov. John Hickenlooper joined Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock Thursday in proclaiming Monday, April 9, as “Colorado Rockies Purple Monday” in support of the Colorado Rockies and their 2012 season home opener at Coors Field.
“The Colorado Rockies have captured the enthusiasm, fervor and support of the people of the City and County of Denver, the state of Colorado, the Rocky Mountain Region and the nation,” Hickenlooper said in a signed proclamation. “The Colorado Rockies understand the rich tradition that has made baseball America’s national pastime and recognize that we have the greatest fans in the game.”
Hickenlooper is a former high school junk ball pitcher and lifelong baseball enthusiast.
Rockies fans are encouraged to wear purple for Opening Day on Monday, April 9. To help celebrate the first home game of the Rockies’ 20th season, Hickenlooper and Hancock will both throw out Opening Day first pitches before the game.
This year has also been designated the “Year of the Fan” by the Colorado Rockies in recognition of the state-wide support the team has received over their 19 seasons as a Major League Baseball franchise.
PHOTO ID TO VOTE DIES
The Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Wednesday killed a bill that would have required photo identification in order to vote.
House Bill 1111, sponsored by Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, and Reps. Libby Szabo, R-Arvada, and Ken Summers, R-Lakewood, would have required a person to provide one of the following forms of identification in order to vote: A U.S. Passport, government-issued employee I.D. card, valid pilot’s license, valid U.S. military I.D. card, Medicaid card, Medicare card or a valid student I.D. card.
The measure died on a Democratic party-line vote.
“This bill would safeguard the democratic process by making sure that legal residents are the only ones who are voting. The best way to conduct honest, open and fair elections is to require photo ID for those who wish to participate in the election process,” said Mitchell. “Voting integrity is critical; every unlawful vote that is cast dilutes the rights of lawful voters.”
HOUSE DEMS ALLEGE ‘CORPORATE WELFARE’
House Democrats on Thursday expressed frustration that their Republican counterparts gave initial approval to a bill aimed at expanding tax breaks for corporate tourism projects. House Democrats said the move expands “corporate welfare.”
Senate Bill 124, sponsored by Rep. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland, and Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, would increase the number of “regional tourism authority” projects that can be approved for state sales tax breaks to six per year, instead of two.
House Democrats said the program lacked necessary guardrails, was inappropriate and did more harm than good, despite many of their Democratic friends in the Senate having supported the measure on March 16 by a vote of 26-8.
Critics say the program would divert an additional $20 million a year in state taxes, meaning the state would have to cut that much from the budget or find new sources of revenue for education and other state services.
“Senate Bill 124 is anti-competitive,” Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, told the House. “It says, ‘It doesn’t matter how good your application is. Just throw some mud against the wall and we’ll take your application.’”
TEAM ANNOUNCED FOR PRESCRIBED BURN REVIEW
Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday named William Bass, a 35-year veteran of the U.S. Forest Service, to lead a four–person team to review the prescribed burn that preceded the Lower North Fork fire last month in Jefferson County.
The governor and Colorado State University, which oversees the Colorado State Forest Service, called for the independent review last week.
Bass, currently the forest supervisor of the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming, will lead a fact-finding team that will assess the planning, protocols and execution of the prescribed burn. The review will include data collection, interviews of personnel involved and an assessment of the planning for the prescribed burn conducted by the Colorado State Forest Service.
The team will issue a report at the end of its review, which is expected to take about 30 days.
The governor on Monday also announced he is working with Colorado’s congressional delegation, specifically U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, to issue a joint letter calling for an after-action review of the Lower North Fork fire. This review will take place after firefighters have achieved 100 percent containment of the blaze, and after the review of the prescribed fire being conducted by Bass and his team.
This Lower North Fork fire after-action review will follow a separate process that focuses on such things as response coordination, fire suppression efforts and communication among responders and with residents. The scope of this review and who will conduct it will be determined in the coming days.
The governor last week suspended the use of prescribed burns by state agencies or on state lands until this review could take place. Detailed plans for this review and who will oversee it have not been finalized.
TRADE MISSION TO CHILE
The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) and the U.S. Commercial Service announced Wednesday that a trade delegation from Colorado will travel to the largest mining exhibition in Latin America, Expomin 2012, in Santiago, Chile from April 7-14, 2012. Martha Butwin, Senior International Trade Specialist from the U.S. Commercial Service, will lead the mission.
The trade mission will focus on helping four Colorado-based companies launch or increase their export business in the Chilean market. The companies participating in the mission are DFC Ceramics, Geotech Environmental Equipment, TEI Rock Drills, and Western Sling and Supply.
The Colorado companies will attend Expomin 2012 and take part in business-to-business networking meetings. The Expomin show is a biennial event that is attended by companies throughout the Americas in the mining and construction sectors. The trade mission is funded by an export-promotion grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration, and is organized by OEDIT and the U.S. Commercial Service.
TRIZETTO BUILDING HQ
Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday joined Trace Devanny, chairman and chief executive of The TriZetto Group Inc., and Mike Fitzgerald, president and chief executive of the Southeast Business Partnership, to announce that TriZetto will build a new worldwide headquarters in the Meridian International Business Center in Douglas County.
The headquarters will immediately generate up to 500 construction jobs and later accommodate up to 750 new jobs at TriZetto over the next five years.
“As companies like TriZetto grow and expand in Colorado, we further solidify Colorado as the best state to do business,” Hickenlooper said. “TriZetto recognized Colorado’s highly-educated workforce, strong health care and technology industry sector, expansive pool of local talent from area colleges and accessible location for visiting clients. We are committed to helping businesses grow and thrive here, and we look forward to seeing more businesses expand in Colorado.”
TriZetto provides information technology solutions that help health care payers and providers achieve compliance, enhance efficiency and collaborate to deliver better health. TriZetto solutions touch more than half the U.S. insured population and reach more than 21,000 physician practices.
With some 3,300 associates and offices across the globe, TriZetto has been headquartered in Denver since July 2010.
In addition to creating hundreds of new jobs in Colorado, TriZetto’s worldwide headquarters will bring up to $250 million of capital investment in the state over the next five years, as well as $70 million in worker pay annually, money that will be reinvested largely in Colorado’s economy.
The build-to-suit, 165,000-square-foot headquarters in the Meridian International Business Center will be built by the Opus Group and owned and managed by Lexington Realty Trust. TriZetto will lease the building as its sole tenant.
Construction will be completed early next year, and employees will move into the new facility in spring 2013.