SOUTH METRO DENVER CHAMBER BILL POSITIONS
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While Colorado lawmakers debate hundreds of bills every year, only one must pass each year – the bill that dictates the state budget. The “long bill,” as it’s commonly referred, will direct over $30 billion dollars in state spending beginning this fiscal year, which begins on July 1, 2020. The debate about how to spend the money is the most prominent discussion of the legislative session.
Just before the 2018 election, in his final plea to the Joint Budget Committee (JBC), former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D) submitted a budget request which got the budget ball rolling. After the election, newly elected Governor Jared Polis (D) reworked the previous request and included requests for some high dollar programs.
In the Polis proposal, $227 million is dedicated to expanding full-day kindergarten services, another $26 million to help school districts implement the measure for the school year beginning in the fall of 2019, and $77 million is earmarked to pay down the budget stabilization factor (formerly known as the “negative factor” which currently sits at $672 million owed to school districts).
With education such a huge focus of the Polis Administration’s priorities it should come to no surprise that this week, a House committee held its first 10-hour hearing on the topic; but instead of funding, sex-ed was on the agenda.
Over 300 people signed up to testify, after the Denver archbishop urged Colorado Catholics to block the passage of the bill. HB19-1032, which is backed by Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, would prohibit public schools from teaching abstinence-only sex education. The bill would require the schools to have a comprehensive sex-ed or none at all. Democrats passed the bill without support from any Republicans.
Another priority on the governor’s spending agenda is a bill that would allow for Colorado to create a Canadian drug importation system. $1.3 million has been requested for this purpose and the bill that would authorize the department of Health Care Policy and Finance (HCPF) to develop a plan was heard in the Senate Health Committee this week. While industry experts expressed concerns over the safety of medicines coming to the US, the impact of such programs on research, development and innovation in this country, and the true cost of the scheme, legislators were swayed by the argument that drugs in Canada, where there is single payer healthcare, are cheaper. The bill passed on a vote of four to one with Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa) joining the Democrats to move the bill to the Appropriations Committee. The bill will likely remain waiting there until after the March revenue forecast when the committee can decide if the bill is still a priority worthy of state funding.
This year, the JBC is departing from their tradition of keeping the budget input process limited to the team of six that make up the committee. Two Republicans, Rep. Kim Ransom (R-Douglas County) and Sen. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale), and four Democrats Rep. Chris Hansen (D-Denver) and Rep. Daneya Esgar (D-Pueblo) and Sen. Rachel Zenzinger (D-Arvada) and Chair Sen. Dominick Moreno (D-Commerce City) serve on the JBC.
Accusations have been made in the past that the JBC does not have a transparent process as much of the work happens beginning in November; and during session, the hours are long. In an effort to open up the budget process, Sen. Moreno is allowing public testimony in front of the committee for the first time ever. That hearing will be Monday afternoon.
Next week we can also expect some of the rumored 150+ late bills to be introduced. Some may set the framework for proposals from the governor reflected in his budget request, like a full-day kindergarten bill. Others may be bills that address demands from Coloradans that are holding over from the election, like bills to authorize robust transportation spending or bills that regulate oil and gas.
Former state Sen. Mike Johnson (D-Denver) who ran for Governor in 2018 announced yesterday, Jan. 31, that he will be running for Senate. He joins former Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff (D-Denver) in what will surely be a crowded Democratic primary. The victor will challenge Senator Cory Gardner (R) in 2020. This announcement, in addition to former Governor Hickenlooper's quest for the US Presidency (although the official announcement has not been made), likely means that Colorado will again be a hot bed of action for the coming election.