Sine Die: Wrapping up the 2011 Session
On Wednesday, 11 May 2011 the Colorado House of Representatives adjourned sine die. With the end of the 2011 Regular Session I want to update you on the status of important legislation and some of my plans for the interim.
This session we had to make some difficult decisions to balance the state budget. Budget cuts are never easy but my colleagues and I have worked hard to soften the impact of these cuts on our schools. We heard from many of you who were concerned about important programs like the School Counselor Grant Corps and school breakfasts. House Democrats were able to negotiate a budget that reduced the proposed cuts to public education from $330 million to about $227.5 million.
Though I am encouraged by our work on the budget I cannot say the same about the redistricting process. Even though Democrat and Republican leaders proposed several maps a compromise could not be reached. It is now inevitable that redistricting will be decided by the courts. I am also disappointed that popular legislation like the Colorado Civil Unions Act and the ACCESS bill (in-state tuition for children of undocumented workers who have attended three or more years of high school in Colorado) never made it out of committee. Issues with such strong public support deserve a fair up-or-down vote.
Even with a split legislature we were able to accomplish a great deal this session. We now have a balanced budget in Colorado. A republican-sponsored bill to eliminate concealed weapon permits was defeated, as were bills designed to bring controversial Arizona-style immigration laws to Colorado. We have made significant steps in the name of government transparency, including the Colorado Taxpayer Empowerment Act and the Subpoena ALJ Campaign Finance bill.
The work doesn’t end when the session does. This summer I was selected to attend the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government program. I will also be joining 40 state officials in Lexington, Kentucky for the Council of State Government’s Toll Fellowship program, a six day “intellectual boot-camp” on issues facing states throughout the country. I look forward to meeting with leaders from around the country for this unique educational opportunity.
Finally I want to extend a special thank you to all of those constituents and concerned advocates who have taken the time to call, write, email and visit with me about your priorities and your concerns. Your input is invaluable to the work we do in the legislature. In the interim please don’t hesitate to contact me; as always, I love hearing from you!
Sine Die Status of 2011 Regular Session
SB11-128: Child only Health Policies
Senate Bill 128 passed with bipartisan support on a final vote of 47-18 in the House and was signed by the Governor. Senate Bill 128 requires health insurance companies in the individual insurance market to offer “child-only” insurance products. These plans provide coverage to children of parents who are uninsured or unable to afford the cost of enrolling their children as dependents. Senate Bill 128 was designed to create a level playing field for all insurers in Colorado. This bill was a bipartisan success and was supported by the Colorado Association of Health Plans as well as several consumer interest groups including All Kids Covered and The Children’s Campaign. Senate Bill 128 was sponsored in the Senate by Senator Linda Newell (D-Littleton) and I was fortunate to gain a co-sponsorship in the House by Rep. Ken Summers (R-Lakewood).
HB11-1117: Subpoena ALJ/Campaign Finance
House Bill 1117, which was introduced to bring greater transparency and accountability to our election process, was signed into law on 21 March 2011. House Bill 1117 (McCann/King) passed with bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. This campaign finance bill was written to address instances when organizations and special-interest groups have intentionally “run out the clock” by evading campaign finance inquiries until after an election had already taken place. House Bill 1117 will prevent these groups from “gaming” the system by giving the State of Colorado and Secretary of State’s Office the ability to respond to violations of existing campaign finance laws in a more efficient and timely manner.
HB11-1039: Animal Cruelty/Steer-Tailing and Horse-Tripping
This year I introduced an animal cruelty bill, House Bill 1039, that would ban two cruel and unsanctioned rodeo events — steer- tailing and horse-tripping — at rodeos and events in the state. Unfortunately this bill was killed on a party-line vote in the House Agriculture Committee. This issue was brought to my attention after a recent event in Jefferson County that included a steer-tailing competition, in which contestants must grab a steer by its tail and attempt to drag it down. Because of the force required to accomplish this feat the steers involved often sustain serious injuries. Following the event in Jefferson County animal cruelty investigators discovered that several steers were severely injured, including some whose tails had been effectively severed from the their bodies. House Bill 1039 would have allowed for the prosecution of participants and sponsors of these competitions.
SB11-081: 9Health Tax Checkoff
With the passage of Senate Bill 81 (White/McCann) the 9Health Fair can continue to raise money through the Colorado tax-checkoff program. The bill was signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper on 13 April 2011, extending tax-checkoff status for 9Health, which was set to expire this year. 9Health provides free and low cost screenings and education to thousands of Coloradans every year at 9Health Fair events across Colorado. These popular events are made possible in part because of funds raised through the checkoff program, which allows individuals to donate a small amount to important causes on their tax-return.
HB11-1184: Higher Education Interim Committee
In partnership with Sen. Keith King I sponsored a bipartisan bill to establish a Higher Education Interim Committee bill. The intent of this bill was to convene a committee of legislators, experts and students to determine the best ways to secure additional funding for Colorado’s higher education system. We are engaged in a necessary and on-going discussion about how to improve elementary and high school education. As a part of this discussion I believe we also need to examine the problems and issues facing higher education in Colorado. Only five interim committees are granted funding each session. The Higher Education Committee bill passed the House but was not selected to receive funding this session. I plan on taking up this issue in the future as I know how important our Higher Education system is to Colorado.
SB11-096: Exclusion of Felony Drug Convictions for Habitual Criminal Sentencing
Senate Bill 96, which I sponsored in the House, excludes a Class 6 Felony drug charge as a triggering offense for habitual criminal sentencing. When an individual in Colorado is convicted of three or more separate and unconnected felony charges that individual can be designated as a habitual criminal offender. Habitual criminal offenders can be incarcerated for terms up to four times longer than the maximum sentence for the triggering crime. The intent of this law is to keep career criminals off the streets; however, an unfortunate number of those sentenced as habitual criminal offenders are convicted of non-violent drug-related offenses. The sentencing of non-violent drug offenders as habitual criminals contributes to the overcrowding of our correctional institutions and to the costs associated with overcrowding. With the passage of Senate Bill 96 a drug possession charge can no longer trigger an unreasonably long prison sentence.
SB11-085: Prostitution Offender Program
This session I co-sponsored Senate Bill 85 to create an alternative approach to dealing with prostitution in municipal courts and county courts. This bill allows for the creation of educational programs for persons convicted of patronizing a prostitute, programs that are designed to educate these offenders about the real-world consequences of prostitution, including the practices of human smuggling and human trafficking. With the passage of this bill Colorado will join several other states that have developed such programs to address the demand-side of prostitution. In addition, SB 85 will allow courts, at their discretion, to impose higher fines for prostitution-related crimes.
HB11-1267: Expand Cases Protection Orders
Along with Senator Mitchell I introduced House Bill 1267. This legislation would expand the ability of judges to issue protection orders in criminal cases where the judge finds that the victims or other persons involved in the case may be in danger, including the possibility of harassment. Currently these kinds of protection orders are only used in domestic violence cases. After hearing from concerned constituents I felt there was a need to expand the scope of these protection orders. This bill has passed the House and Senate and was recently re-passed by the House to concur with Senate amendments.
HB11-1145: Background Checks for Child Care Providers
The State of Colorado currently requires certain background checks for most childcare providers and early childhood education teachers. However, the current law does not mandate background checks for childcare providers that are comprehensive enough to determine if a provider has a record of disqualifying crimes committed in states outside Colorado. House Bill 1145 will require more comprehensive background checks, including federal background checks, for all child care providers in Colorado. House Bill 1145 has passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support and is expected to be signed by the Governor.
Update on the Status of Other Legislation from the 2011 Regular Session
SB 200: Health insurance exchanges
This was a major piece of legislation this year. It begins the process of establishing health insurance exchanges required pursuant to national health care reform. If the states don’t set up their own exchanges, the federal government will. This was the result of a lot of hard work by Sen. Betty Boyd, the Democratic chair of the Health Committee and received bipartisan support.
SB 189: Changing the date of primary elections
In order to comply with changes in federal law to ensure that members of the military who are deployed have a full opportunity to vote, the primary elections in Colorado were moved in this bill from August to the last Tuesday in June. This will mean that candidates in primary elections will have to campaign earlier.
SB 208: Merger of Division of Wildlife and State Parks
This bill was passed at the request of the Governor’s office. It was quite controversial but I hope that it will save the state money and also save some of our parks.
SB 184: Tax Amnesty
This bill allows Coloradans who owe back taxes to pay them with lowered interest and no penalties during a certain time period. This is expected to generate up to $15 million for the state.
HB 1043 & 1250: Medical Marijuana
These bills tweak a number of regulations regarding medical marijuana and mandates labeling requirements for medical-marijuana food and drink products.
HB 1045: Investing In Innovation
House Democrats fought to help get Colorado’s working families back on their feet by attracting good, quality jobs to Colorado, and with the Senate’s passage of HB 1045 we have made a great step towards this goal. My colleague Rep. John Kefalas (D-Fort Collins) sponsored this Innovation Investment Tax Credit bill which was passed. Essentially, the bill gives tax credits to those people who invest in small businesses that are developing new technologies or products. Increased investment will allow these small businesses to grow their business and hire more employees.
SB 11-047: Investing in Clean Energy
The international economy has embraced the clean energy and bio-science sectors and my colleagues in the House and Senate want to make sure that Colorado doesn’t get left behind. From pioneering genetic research to renewable energy technology, these high-tech sectors will flourish in the coming decades, and we believe that Colorado can be a leading force in the 21st century economy.
My colleague, Rep. Jim Riesberg (D-Greeley) worked across the aisle with Rep. Cheri Gerou (R-Evergreen) to introduce Senate Bill 47, a bill that will invest in two cash funds designed to support the bio-science and clean technology industries. These cash funds already exist and have helped establish seven new high-tech companies right here in Colorado. With the passage of Senate Bill 47 this past week we ca n continue to support Colorado’s energy economy.
HB 11-1032: Restorative Justice
This bill, introduced by my colleague Pete Lee (D-Colorado Springs), will implement innovative Restorative Justice programs in Colorado’s court system. Restorative justice is a process of bringing victims, defendants, and community members together to talk about an offense and repair the harm done. It will focus particularly on juvenile criminals and has the potential to ensure that childhood misbehavior does not become adult criminality.
HB 11-1254: Bullying in Schools
This session the Colorado General Assembly came together in a true bipartisan effort to reduce and prevent bullying in Colorado schools. Recently several horrific cases of bullying around the country have revealed the emotional and psychological consequences that such behavior has on our children and youth. To address this issue House Bill 1254 will create a school bullying prevention and education grant program and cash fund that will enable schools to institute the recommendations of the legislature, namely that each school institute a safe school plan, including a conduct and discipline code, that will promote a learning environment that is safe, conducive to the learning process and free from unnecessary disruption.
SB 11-157 and SB 11-230: Reducing Cuts to K-12 Education
The effect of recent budget cuts on our schools has become an issue of tremendous public concern. With the intent of softening the impact of these cuts House Democrats worked closely with Republican Rep. Tom Massey to protect up to $90 million for K-12 education in Colorado in an amendment to the School Finance Act. While schools will still be facing a cut this year, the pain is reduced now greatly reduced.
We in the legislature will continue to fight for every spare dollar for our schools. The amendment will use $22.5 million immediately from the State Education Fund to address funding shortfalls in districts right now. Pending a positive June revenue forecast, the amendment could also direct $67.5 million to the Public School Fund. This money can be applied to the neediest school districts across the state for changes in enrollment, special needs students, and to reduce mid-year cuts.
Agricultural tax break
While we were not able to address the abuse of the agricultural property tax break that many who are not really farmers enjoy, we made some inroads with a bill to at least tax the portion of the property under a house when agriculture is not a main function of the property.
SCR 1: Proposed change to ability to amend the Constitution
A bill was proposed this year to require a proposed constitutional amendment to the Colorado constitution to pass with 60% of the vote rather than a simple majority. I supported this bill but unfortunately it did not pass.
Beer is Beer
A bill was introduced to allow convenience and grocery stores to sell 3.2 beer which they cannot currently do. The bill was defeated in the House as many representatives feared the impact this would have on small liquor stores in their districts. Another bill, which I supported, did pass, though, that will allow restaurants to serve 3.2 beer in addition to full strength beer.
HB 1261: Driving while stoned
This bill would have established a threshold of 5 nanograms of marijuana in the system for a finding of impaired driving. The bill failed.