Closing out business at 11:59 pm on May 9, 2018 the Colorado General Assembly has adjourned Sine Die leaving a wake of success in its path. 721 bills were introduced during the 120-day legislative session, amid what seemed like never-ending controversy. Between the numerous accusations of sexual assault against members and the caucuses continually posturing with "messaging bills" for the primary and general elections, it often felt like nothing would ever get done. But, like it usually does, agreement prevailed; compromises between the Republicans who control the Senate and the Democrats who control the House were reached on the state's most pressing issues. Governor Hickenlooper even said this legislative session was the most productive he's witnessed. Read on for what was, what could have been and what wasn't in this year's meeting of the Colorado General Assembly.
Alright. We have to know. What happened?
Transportation Compromise Made
The highest priority for Senate Republicans this year was to dedicate resources to the state's growing transportation needs. SB18-001, introduced on the first day of session, was heavily negotiated by the majorities in the House and Senate. The bill, now waiting for the governor's signature and final passage, will invest $495 million into roads, bridges and alternative transportation this year, $150 million next year, then allows the state to borrow $2.3 billion to be repaid over the next 20 years. It taps the state general fund for $122.6 million a year. Some say this investment is meager, others say it is major; but that debate has left the legislature. The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce (DMCC) plans to run their ballot initiative which will ask for tax increase from the voters to add a new funding source for transportation.
Jon Caldara with the Independence Institute also have a ballot proposal which is in the signature gathering phase. This proposal will direct the state's general fund money to transportation without raising taxes or fees. By August we will know if voters in Colorado will see one or both questions on their November ballots.
Public Employees Retirement Act Addressed
Inaction on this bill would have risked a downgrade of the state's credit, but in the last hours of the legislative a deal was reached and
Public Employees Retirement Act (PERA) was funded. The compromise reached includes some cuts to retirement benefits, a requirement that public employees and taxpayer-funded government agencies to contribute more of each paycheck into the retirement fund, and a higher retirement age for new employees. Beginning this year, the state will annually contribute $225 million to help pay off the system's unfunded debt, which totals $32 to $50 billion.
Higher Education Receives Grant Funding
After an initial $80 million dollar investment from the state to help hold down the cost of tuition, Colorado's state legislators reached a deal to add another $18 million in supplemental grants to small and rural universities and community colleges.
Investment Made for the Intellectually and Developmentally Disabled
The largest single investment made in recent history for people in Colorado with intellectual and developmentally disabilities was made this year with a major investment by the state legislators. The $12 million move took 300 people off the waiting list and made an investment in the workforce that cares for this population.
"Sizzurp" Off Limits to Teens and Preteens
Yes, the practice is about as absurd as the name reads; but the problem of kids abusing certain types of cough syrup (street names: sizzurp, dex, skittles, drank) is real and was addressed by the state legislature this year. A bill, HB18-1307, passed to make it illegal to sell products with dextromethorphan to people under 18.
Parity for Manufactured Housing Purchasers
A bill that exempts manufactured homes from state sales tax was passed this year in order to make the taxation of manufactured homes more similar to other real property. The bill was supported by industry, but driven by consumer advocacy organizations in hopes to make home ownership more attainable.
Fiscal Fix for the Science and Cultural Facilities
After last year's last-minute passage of SB17-267, the bill that made an enterprise of the Hospital Provider Fee, a special session was held in hopes to fix an error that was made in certain special districts ability to levy taxes. The unsuccessful bills that ran during special session were reworked to bring along those who opposed the fix in the first place - Senate Republicans. The fix passed with bipartisan support and as such, the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), the Regional Transportation District (RTD) and some rural hospital and water districts were able to again levy tax on recreational marijuana.
8-1-1 Updated and Improved
Bipartisan legislation to update Colorado's "8-1-1: Call Before You Dig" program was passed in April. SB18-167 creates the Underground Damage Prevention Safety Commission; increases safety education and makes changes to the state's excavation laws to improve enforcement.
Advanced Industries Benefit from Continuation of Export Program
The Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) passed a bill in partnership with the Colorado BioScience Association (CBSA) and the Colorado Cleantech Industry Association (CCIA) that continues the state's successful export program. The program allows companies in the advanced industries to access a community of supporters and also receive grant dollars to market their products in foreign markets.
Affordable Housing Tax Credit Extended
A bill that helps incentivize the building of affordable housing projects in the state passed again this year. SB18-007 will offer $5M in tax credits every year for the next five years to investors and builders who traditionally see a higher rate of return on more expensive condominiums.
Battle over where and how You Buy Beer was Waged
Based on legislation from 2016 that was heralded as a grand compromise and the most significant change to liquor laws since Prohibition, beer lovers expected to see full-strength beer being sold in grocery stores and convenience stores on January 1, 2019. However, liquor store interests were concerned that there were not enough regulations in place so multiple bills were introduced that aimed to put guardrails on this transition. In one of the most contentious battles of the session, SB18-243 was approved in the final hours of the session that provided guidance on the age of employees at retailers who sell alcoholic products, distance between retailers, beer delivery in the age of Amazon and the role of local governments in determining what kind of beer can be consumed in public parks. HB18-1441 was also approved. The bill clarified the role of local governments in approving permits for retailers located close to schools.
Bipartisan Solutions Regarding Oil and Gas Development
One of the biggest successes in energy related legislation was the passage of a bipartisan bill that updates statutory pooling law. SB18-230 made changes to the process for statutory pooling of oil and gas resources. Oil and gas companies must now notify mineral owners 60 days prior to the official hearing in front of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). Additionally, the bill directed the COGCC to create a plain language pooling explanation, clarifies that those pooled have no operational liability and updates/clarifies that multiple wells may be included in a pooling application.
Another success was a bill that dealt with Technically Enhanced Radioactive Material (TENORM). SB18-245 passed late in the session and takes TENORM out of regulatory purgatory. The bill initiates a process to bring legal certainty to water, waste water, and oil and gas wastes and byproducts when they have TENORM characteristics.
Finally, the Colorado Energy Office was reauthorized, fully funded and its mission was updated to be an advocate for all forms of energy.
That all sounds good. So what didn't happen?
"Transparency" for the Healthcare Sector
Critical of the cost of pharmaceutical drugs, hospital stays, and insurance premiums, state legislators made multiple attempts to compel information about what drives the price of healthcare under the guise of "transparency." Their efforts were considered by many to be misguided and ultimately failed because instead of looking for ways to reduce costs for patients, they looked for a way to cast blame on one piece of the sector, ignoring the advancements in technology and medicine and major players who drive up costs. Plus, much of the regulation that happens in the health care sector is regulated at the federal level.
President Trump's administration has announced a plan to bring down list prices of pharmaceutical drugs in part by regulating Pharmacy Benefit Managers (the middle men who receive rebates in exchange for formulary placement).
No Consideration of the Long Term Impacts of Spending
The Governor's office set the expectation in January that spending on new continuing programs has the potential to put stress on the budget as early as next year because of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). That warning did not seem to hold water with the legislature because between ongoing promises made to transportation and the state pension plan, little flexibility will remain for future legislatures to fund new priorities due to the TABOR spending limit.
Bitcoin Technologies Could Still Face Regulation
Two bills were defeated this year that would have exempted bitcoin from state securities regulation. For many, the question: "What is a bitcoin?" was enough to satisfy a vote which would protect consumers. No bills were passed this year to regulate activity in the crypto-currency space, but for now there is no prohibition against it.
Closed Loop Marijuana Payment System, No-Go
A bill that would have deceived the state bank into transacting moneys on behalf of the marijuana industry because it commingled funds between federally illegal and legal sources went down early in the session, much to the chagrin of one company that wanted to take a percentage of all purchases. A bipartisan group of Senators on the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee believed that such a move would put all of the state's assets at risk due to federal money laundering laws.
Well, cool. So what now?
We move hot and heavy into election-mode. The primary is about six weeks away (June 26) and many races are highly contested. Take for example the race for Governor where there are four candidates to pick from each party to pick from. Over the next few weeks, there will be biweekly financial disclosure statements made by all state political committees, which includes candidate committees. Money raised and spent is a great indicator of how prepared candidates are and how they may fare in the election.
In the Governor's race, over $15 million has been raised by candidates to date. In the past, the most expensive gubernatorial election was $10 million and that includes money raised over the entire election - from the beginning of the Primary through the General. The number for this year is a little misleading and some could artificially high because two candidates have made significant contributions to themselves. Congressman Jared Polis, a Democrat, has put in $5 million of his own money and Victor Mitchell, a Republican, has loaned his own campaign $3 million.
After the $5 million he loaned himself, total self-funding for Congressman Polis sits around $6.3 million. It should come as no surprise that Rep. Polis is one of the wealthiest members of Congress. According to the Colorado Secretary of State (SOS), he has spent just over $6 million for the period and has about half a million left in his account.
Cary Kennedy, former state treasurer, raised about $800,000 in contributions during the last period after a strong showing at the party caucus. In this fundraising period, she raised more than any other candidate and in doing so set a record in a Colorado governor's race, according the the Denver Post. So far, she has spent $1.2 million on the race and has $435,000 remaining in her candidate committee account.
Former State Sen. Mike Johnston, another Democrat, raised $600,000 this quarter, bringing his total to $2.1 million since he announced his candidacy and began his run for governor. The total he has raised is more money than any candidate for governor from either party has raised in a contested primary. His SOS filing shows that he spent $1.2 million so far and still has $838,000 on hand. That is the most of any candidate this period.
Coming in fourth for the Democrats, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne raised $337,000. That number includes a $100,000 contribution to her own campaign. Her total fundraising equals a little above $1 million. After spending around $700,000, she had about $300,000 in the bank.
In the Republican primary, sitting state Treasurer Walker Stapleton brought in the most money, collecting about $400,000 for the period. He spent a little under $600,000 and has $831,0000 in the bank.
Businessman and former state lawmaker Victor Mitchell, who loaned his campaign $3 million when he launched it a year ago, spent $2.8 million this quarter. His campaign has been heavy on TV advertising, which will continue through the primary. He is left with about $260,000 in the bank.
Doug Robinson, a Republican, retired investment banker and Mitt Romney's nephew, raised $90,000 and spent $650,000, leaving him with just under $100,000. He too has loaned himself money, $300,000 over the course of his campaign.
Finally, Greg Lopez is in a distant fourth as far as fundraising is concerned. The Parker Mayor has just under $7,000 for the period. He has spent $33,000 and has about $7,000 in the bank. That figure includes $24,000 he's loaned himself. Mayor Lopez made a strong showing at the State Assembly which has given him a boost that has offset his lean fundraising.
More updates will come from your team at CLS as the election continues on! Until then!
Session Highlights Provided By: