Amid contentious debates over Family Medical Leave Insurance (FMLI), rural broadband development and mid-year budget adjustments for all state departments, another week has been clouded with a public sexual harassment accusation; this time between legislators.
The complaint, filed in November, was released on Thursday evening by the Representative who was the victim of assault, Rep. Susan Lontine (D-Denver). The report, which she held in confidence over the last month, said that her grievance against Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa) was found credible.
Senate Leadership had already been privately working out a proper response regarding a separate complaint against Sen. Randy Baumgardner (R-Hot Sulfur Springs) who was accused of inappropriately touching an aide last session.
The newest grievance from Rep. Lontine adds stress to the Senate Republicans who are getting pressure from the Minority Party, whose members are calling for the resignation of at least Sen. Baumgardner.
Regarding legislation, leaders are also exchanging criticisms in the media because of a GOP vote on the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) that defunded the Colorado Civil Rights Division that investigates claims of discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. The move can be revisited, but quickly stoked political outcry from Democrats and the LGBTQ community.
The commission is at the center of the pending U.S. Supreme Court case involving the refusal of Lakewood baker Jack Phillips of "Masterpiece Cakeshop" to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple almost six years ago. Democrats saw the move to defund as retaliation against the commission for siding with the couple after their compliant was initially filed.
Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) said he voted to withhold money for the commission - which operates under the Colorado Civil Rights Division - because he is waiting to see if lawmakers vote to renew the law to authorize the commission's existence. That bill is coming later this session.
That decision won't have any immediate impact on the Civil Rights Division, as they were discussing next year's budget. And as far as that is concerned there is still a lot of work to do. Especially with the biggest question still remaining: how much money will the state have to spend?
Right now, estimates from the Office of State Planning and Budgeting (OSPB) suggest around $300 million will be on the table. Yet with investments that need to be made in the budget stabilization factor, corrections, higher education and the department of healthcare policy and financing, there is not a large pool of money left to spend on other competing interests or on-going needs like transportation, capital construction and K-12 education. Many bills remain in limbo until the March revenue forecast reveals how the state's economy is really doing.
With less than 90 days of session left, a growing number of bills, and simmering controversy, all we can do is hope for civility to prevail.
Over the next week, many of the "messaging bills" from each of the parties will be sent from the House to the Senate or vice versa. We can expect a full docket in both chambers' kill committees. Once those bills die; a balanced budget, transportation funding, job development, a new school finance formula, and bills that deal with energy, public safety, oil and gas, and the mission of higher education institutions will move forward.
Until next week!
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