DENVER – Democratic dominance in Colorado’s Capitol has enabled lawmakers to push progressive legislation reforming energy regulations and gun control, but a packed agenda, long debates and partisan protests have left lawmakers with little time to pass prominent health care and climate change measures.
With just days left in the session, there are more than 200 bills that lawmakers must consider, an uncharacteristically high number. On the table are key bills addressing climate, insurance, health care, opioid addiction and taxes on tobacco. Some bills – such as a measure to continue retail marijuana regulations – must pass.
“There is just so much stuff left that I don’t think I can predict what will make it,” said Kevin Bommer, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League. “This is not normal.”
The 2019 session was supposed to be a “landmark year” for Democrats, with majorities in both chambers and a Democrat in the governor’s office, wrote Eli Boone, a research analyst for the Colorado Health Institute, a Denver-based nonprofit that tracks health care policy. But Republicans wielded surprising power by delaying votes with long debates or requests to read bills at length.
“Legislators are now racing against the clock to pass some of their top-priority bills – many of which are not expected to make it,” Boone wrote.
But as controversial bills on oil and gas reform, gun control and reforming presidential voting have dominated Colorado’s 72nd legislative session, there are a handful of lesser known, but important, measures that are also likely to make it to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk.
Here’s a wrap of some bills worth tracking:
House Bill 1327 would give Colorado voters a chance to decriminalize sports betting in the November elections. The bill, which has passed through the House and now heads to the Senate floor, would allow online and in-person betting in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek. But voters must also approve a 10% tax on all sports betting proceeds, money that will then go to the Colorado Water Plan. With its current water use practices, Colorado will not have enough water for its population by 2050. The water plan, enacted in 2015, seeks to fix that but has never been permanently funded and received only $10 million in funding this year, a third of what Polis requested.
If approved, the new tax is expected to generate by 2022 between $13 million and $15 million – some of which, but not all, will go to the water plan.
Senate Bill 107, which has passed both the House and Senate, will allow electric utilities to offer easements for broadband infrastructure. In the words of bill sponsor Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon: “We can save millions of dollars on new infrastructure if we allow electrical easement holders to deliver internet services to communities through already-existing transmission corridors.” The bill could be a particular boon for Southwest Colorado and the Eastern Plains, where the numbers of residents without access to high-speed broadband are the highest. The lowest speed of broadband is only minimally available in Dolores, San Juan, Mineral and Conejos counties.
Polis is poised to sign HB 1239, which creates a grant program for the 2020 Census to ensure an accurate count. The bill sets aside more than $6 million through 2021 for local governments, agencies, housing authorities, school districts, nonprofits and the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes to offer education and promotional activities around the census. All applications will be reviewed by a panel of lawmakers and gubernatorial appointees.The census is a key piece of determining how much federal funding Colorado will get for various programs, including Medicaid and Medicare, health coverage programs for the poor and elderly, respectively.
Nearly a quarter of Colorado’s population is on Medicaid. Census data has also been tied to federal grants for school meals, rental assistance and affordable housing, emergency recovery grants, rural education and watershed protection programs, among many other things.
A handful of bills addressing Colorado’s opioid crisis by expanding treatment options have made it to the governor’s desk or are nearly there. SB 1, which adds medication-assisted treatment facilities in the San Luis Valley, is headed to the governor’s desk; as is SB 227, which requires (among other things) that drugs like Naloxone, which reverse opioid overdoses, be made available alongside publicly funded defibrillators.
SB 8, which has received preliminary approval from both the House and Senate, makes several changes to how the state handles opioid addiction treatment for jail and prison inmates, including offering funds to state prisons and county jails for medication-assisted treatment programs. Currently, only three of Colorado’s 64 counties offer medication-assisted treatment to jail inmates.