The 2010 legislative session is over! It was a challenging and tough session but I believe we got a lot of bills passed that will improve our state in the future.
As you know, this was and is a tough year for the state budget. Revenues are way down but needs continue to rise. As a result, we had to make some very difficult decisions that angered some but were necessary to keep the budget balanced. Everyone had to sacrifice for this budget to balance. We removed several tax exemptions and credits that various businesses have enjoyed over the years, at least for the near future, including, eliminating the tax exemptionfor candy and soda, tax exemptions for Internet associates, the senior property tax exemptions, and various others. None of these were easy or satisfying but tough choices just had to be made.
The 2010 General Assembly passed several important bills to increase Colorado’s presence as a leader in the New Energy Economy. HB 1001 increases the state’s renewable energy standard for investor owned utilities from the current 20% to 30% by 2020. HB 1365 requires Xcel Energy to switch from coal fired power plants to ones powered by natural gas. This bill was remarkable in that it brought together environmentalists, the natural gas industry, the business community, and government leaders in a rare moment of unity to support the development of renewable energy and jobs. Another bill will allow the development of solar gardens.
In the wake of the Supreme Court case that allows direct corporate contributions to independent expenditures for or against candidates, the Legislature passed a bill that will require corporations and unions to report any campaign expenditures over $1000 and identify themselves on any ads.
We passed a bill that puts some limits on the amount of interest that pay day lenders can charge. I supported this bill because although I realize that many people need that short term loan to tide them over, many then get caught in a cycle of debt from which they cannot emerge. We hope that the lenders will be able to continue to offer loans but at a more reasonable rate.
No issue attracted more media attention in the beginning of the session than medical marijuana. I was the prime co-sponsor of the bill that tightened up the doctor/patient relationship and prohibits a relationship between a doctor and a dispensary. I was also a sponsor of the bill that allows dispensaries (now called centers) to continue but within a regulated structure with requirements for licensing and operation. My guess is that we will revisit this one in the future. The bill was definitely a compromise between the law enforcement position of no dispensaries
and the medical marijuana community that wants less regulation. Under the bill, local communities, either through their elected officials or by vote of the people, can ban dispensaries.
Government Workers Pensions
In a very controversial move, we passed a bill to raise the retirement age, reduce cost-of-living raises, and increase contributions from employees and employers to PERA, the government workers pension system.
I supported a bill that would allow rafters to float down rivers through private property, a practice that occurs today but is on tenuous legal grounds and is dependent on the agreement of the landowner. Unfortunately, the Senate would not approve the bill other than as a study so the bill died.
Many of you know of the dire situation of our higher education institutions as the federal recovery money that helped support them over the last two years will run out next year. We really MUST find a long term reliable solution to funding our higher education institutions. I am on the Legislative advisory group for the Governor’s Higher Education Committee and I hope that we will be able to arrive at some viable solutions. The bill we passed this year will allow colleges to raise tuition by up to 9 % without legislative approval.
Direct File on Juveniles
The bill passed does not allow DA’s to file directly on teens aged 14 or 15 except in the most serious felonies. A court must make the decision whether a teen should be charged as an adult. Another bill requires that juveniles be provided education while incarcerated in the county jails.
This bill was, without a doubt, the most contentious of the Session. It evoked deep and heart felt emotions on both sides, and I found it to be the most difficult decision I had to make this session. After a great deal of thought and many meetings, emails and phone calls with teachers, principals, and parents, I decided to support the bill. The bill was amended many times with amendments suggested by the teachers and, as a result, I believe that the bill will move us toward fair and measurable goals for teachers and principals. I was especially encouraged by meeting with some teachers and students at one of the challenging schools in the district. Rather than be discouraged by working with previously low performing students, these teachers welcomed the opportunity and talked about how they felt they would be able to show great growth with these students since they started from so far behind. They also welcomed the opportunity to have meaningful evaluations and to receive assistance if they were struggling. I was particularly struck by the words of one young student who, when asked what he thought, replied simply “They keep holding me to higher and higher standards, I think my teachers should be held to high standards also.” I sincerely hope that over the ensuing months as the Governor’s Council begins to meet and work toward developing measures of teacher effectiveness, the members truly listen to teachers who are in the classroom every day and that they take advantage of the great work that is already being done on developing measures. I also intend to hold the business community to its word that it will support us in seeking increased taxes and/or a consistent source of financial support for public education. Public education is a fundamental responsibility of government and we must support it with adequate finances!
Women’s Health Issues
I am very proud of the bill I co-sponsored which prohibits gender discrimination
in the individual market (it is already prohibited in the large group market). The Governor signed this bill into law on March 29, 2010. 130,000 women will no longer pay up to 59% more than men for the exact same health insurance coverage with passage of this bill.
I was also a sponsor of HB 1021 which requires that all health insurance policies offered in the individual insurance market include coverage for maternity care and contraceptive services. Previously, this coverage was not available in the individual market so this is a great step forward for women and health insurance. These bills have been signed by the Governor.
Jail Inmates Can Work
Another bill I sponsored will allow county jails to provide real life work opportunities for inmates. They will be able to partner with companies and produce products that will be sold in the market. They will be paid minimum wage and thus will be able to earn some money and learn a skill they can use to be productive citizens. This bill has been signed by the Governor.
Adopt a Shelter Pet License Plate
Continuing in my pet supporter tradition, I carried a bill to create a license plate that will raise money for shelters to help them spay and neuter pets so they will be available for adoption. Look for these plates in January!
Two Prior Felony Rule
I also sponsored and passed a bill to change the current law that prohibits anyone convicted of any two prior felonies from being eligible for probation. This law will allow the judge to consider probation in these situations depending on the severity of the crimes.
Food for Families
This session, we helped struggling families put food on their table by expanding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This improved food stamp program will provide nearly 20,000 additional families with essential food assistance, and will help ease the huge caseload that food banks and the faith community have been bearing.
The lynchpin of our economy is small business. We targeted small business growth through innovative new programs like “Work Share,” which helps stressed businesses save money by reducing the hours of a group of employees instead of laying off workers, and allowing workers with reduced hours to apply for some unemployment compensation.
Congestion on I-70
A bill was passed that will allow CDOT to use zipper lanes which will increase to three the number of lanes on I-70 in either direction at peak times.
There were many other bills that also are important but there is not enough space to cover them all. It was a busy and packed session! Thank you so much for communicating with me and letting me know what your thinking is on issues facing our great state. We are all hopeful that the economy is on the road to recovery and that those who are unemployed will be able to find meaningful work soon.