On their third week in the Capitol, Colorado lawmakers began the difficult task of tackling high health care costs in the state, but they also revisited bills killed last year and made moves to assist rural educators.
Here’s a look back at some of the events of the week:
Health careIt was a busy week for the House’s Health and Insurance Committee, which is on the forefront of some of the early efforts to reform Colorado’s health care system and address high costs.
Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, and Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, successfully steered their bill asking for a state-backed insurance plan through the committee Wednesday night. The bill asked for more than $570,000 to fund a proposal for a state insurance plan, due to lawmakers in November. Regulators at the state’s Division of Insurance would be charged with creating the program, which they believe would help lower private insurance premiums. The bill now heads to the House Appropriations Committee, and then to a vote on the floor.
The committee approved HB 1077, again sponsored by Roberts, that would allow pharmacists to dispense maintenance drugs in cases of emergency to patients without current prescriptions. This bill now heads to the floor. The committee approved yet another bill that tackles health care costs, this time HB 1001, which would require hospitals to be more transparent about their costs and offer a breakdown of their expenses to the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing. And this week, Gov. Jared Polis announced the creation of the Office of Saving People Money on Health Care, with a mission as straightforward as its title. Although created by executive order, the office still requires $247,000 from the state budget.MarijuanaFor the second year, legislators will try to add autism spectrum disorders to the list of conditions approved for medical marijuana treatment. After hearing several hours of testimony Wednesday, the House Health and Insurance Committee approved a bill adding autism to a list of conditions that include cancer, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress and HIV/AIDS, among others.
Last year, at the urging of parents whose children have autism, lawmakers in both chambers passed a bill adding autism to the list of approved conditions. But former Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed it, citing concerns from medical professionals. Instead, the former governor asked that the state study the impacts of marijuana use on children. In November, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment awarded a $1.35 million grant to University of Colorado for a three-year study on the effects of CBD oil on children.
Notably, Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, now a farmer who grows hemp to produce CBD oil, is sponsoring the bill in the Senate.
EducationA handful of lawmakers want to launch new programs or expand existing ones to support teachers in rural school districts.
On Thursday, the Senate Education Committee approved both SB 009, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and SB 003, sponsored by Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, both of which will benefit rural educators. Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, and chairwoman of the House Education Committee, co-sponsored both bills.
Todd’s bill would lift the cap on rural teachers who can receive a stipend, and the bill also would raise the stipend from $2,800 to $4,000. Zenzinger’s bill would offer up to $5,000 of student loan forgiveness for teachers who spend a year working in schools that are short on teachers, most of which are in rural areas.
Todd’s bill is headed to the floor for a vote, while Zenzinger’s is headed to the Appropriations Committee.