2018 Colo. legislature: What got done (and not done) under the dome?
Author: Joey Bunch and Marianne Goodland - May 10, 2018 - Updated: May 31, 2018
Here’s a look at the bills and issues Colorado legislators did or didn’t accomplish in the 2018 General Assembly session that wrapped up Wednesday:
What got done
Crackdown on harassment
State Rep. Steve Lebsock became only the second lawmaker in Colorado history to be voted out of the General Assembly on March 2, and Sen. Randy Baumgardner survived an expulsion hearing a month later, before more sexual harassment allegations against him became public. In all, six male legislators faced allegations of misbehavior in the wake of the #MeToo wave. The General Assembly hired a human resources leader for the statehouse. During the interim, lawmakers will rewrite the rules for acceptable behavior at the Capitol.
Dollars for education
As teachers marched on the Capitol in search of money for their retirement and their classrooms, K-12 education did better than usual this session finance-wise. Besides averting increases in teacher pension contributions, education picked up $150 million in this year’s School Finance Act, plus $10 million to help address teacher shortages and a $30 million one-time boost for rural schools. Per pupil funding grew by almost 3.3 percent to $6,768.77.
Hitting the road on transportation
At long last, lawmakers put a bundle of quick cash — $645 million in the next two years — and long-term borrowing into the state’s crowded, crumbling transportation system. And each year after that, lawmakers will be expected to put in $122.6 million annually into roads, bridges and transit. Not everyone is happy. Towns and counties get none of the new money after two years, and transportation advocates note the authorized $2.35 billion in bonds is a far cry from the $20 billion the state is expected to need over the next two decades.
A fix for pensions
With potentially $32 billion it might not be able to pay over the next three decades, the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association — the pension for more than 585,000 current and former state employees — needed some serious TLC from lawmakers. The stakes were high. The plan could collapse in a severe economic downturn, but sooner than that it could tank the state’s credit rating, driving up the cost for government to do business by millions of dollars per year. In the final days, lawmakers found a way to balance the books by tapping taxpayers for $225 million in addition to cuts in cost-of-living allowances, hiking the retirement age from 58 to 64 and requiring employees to kick in higher contributions.
A lot of pot
The General Assembly blessed the opening of tasting rooms for cannabis consumers to sample the goods, but that’s nearly all that was done on marijuana this year. They also lifted limits on the wholesale market and desegregated recreational and medical inventories. Consumption clubs — essentially, bars to toke in — was still not a go this year, however.
Next Jan. 1, you’ll be able to walk into most any grocery or convenience store and buy full-strength beer instead of the 3.2 they’ve been selling for generations. But the rules around how that would work were never fixed into law. That led to another beer war between the grocery and convenience stores and the small mom-and-pop liquor stores and craft brewers around how that would look. It came down to the wire, and survived some last-minute shenanigans, but Senate Bill 243 is on its way to the governor.
The Republican majority in the Senate and the Democratic majority joined hands and sang “Kumbaya” around a nearly $29 billion budget for next year. That’s nearly $2.1 billion more than last year. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when the law makes you. The state constitution requires lawmakers to pass a balanced budget every year.
Civil rights commission
Up until late afternoon Wednesday, it looked like the bill reauthorizing the state’s civil rights agency might not win approval, with Senate Republicans insisting that they wanted a say in who gets on the civil rights commission and House Democrats (and the governor) claiming such a move would politicize the commission. Both sides won something: Republicans got a change in the appointment process and Democrats kept the Republicans from allowing cases to go to court and bypass the commission, which Democrats said defeated the purpose of having a commission in the first place.
What didn’t get done
Oil and gas
This one is a mixed bag; a legislative pendulum. Democrats renewed several attempts to put restrictions on oil and gas operations near neighborhoods. A bill to increase reporting on spills and other incidents, another to make public health and safety a higher priority, and the usual attempts at setbacks from schools — all were snuffed out by Senate Republicans. Democrats killed a bill to hold local governments liable for the cost of restricting fracking. The state renewed its Energy Office, as the GOP pushed a more broader mission to include drilling and mining. Democrats and Republicans strengthened the 811 call system excavators use to locate lines, as well as updating oil and natural gas pooling law.
Gay rights v. religious liberty
One Colorado, the state’s largest gay rights advocacy group, hit the usual brick wall in the Republican-held Senate again this year as it tried to pass a ban on the conversion therapy for minors and a bill to make it easier for transgender Coloradans to amend their birth certificate, while successfully opposing a bill that would have allowed adoption and foster care services to cite religion as a reason to deny same-sex couples.
Every year, partisan bills that can’t pass the opposing party’s majorities are tried and fail each session. The Democratic-led House voted down GOP-sponsored bills that would have allowed teachers to carry guns in schools and legislation to do away with a handful of rules and guidelines on businesses. The Republican majority in the Senate returned the bad favor on Democratic bills to allow communities to set their minimum wage, deal with affordable housing (remember the plastic bag tax?), ensure equal pay for women and mandate paid family medical leave.
Red flag gun bill
Most of the state’s law enforcement groups and a few of the GOP’s rising political stars tried to pass a bill that would have allowed authorities to seize guns, at least temporarily, from people deemed a risk to themselves or others. The bill was named for Douglas County Deputy Zackari Parrish, who was ambushed when four other officers and two civilians were wounded on Dec. 31. But a huge majority of House and Senate Republicans saw the so-called red-flag bill as larded with constitutional violations and a law that could be abused to deprive Americans of their guns. The bill was voted down by Sens. Owen Hill, Vicki Marble and Jerry Sonnenberg in the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
Small business bills
The House killed two occupational licensing reform bills treasured by small-business conservatives to ease up on occupational licensing regulations, except when they deal with public health and safety. A Senate committee then struck down a bill that would have set up a public retirement savings plan for workers who don’t have one at work.