Give us the news: Lynchpin hospital fee bill still under wraps

Author: John Tomasic - April 27, 2017 - Updated: April 27, 2017

The dome as seen from the Legislative Building. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)
The gold dome, as seen from the Legislative Building. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)

“Senate Bill 267 will be laid over,” said Appropriations Committee Chair Kevin Lundberg. “We’ll begin now with…”

But the room wasn’t listening to him anymore. Nearly all of the reporters and lobbyists sitting arrayed before the committee members rose from their chairs at once and headed to the door.

“Thank you for coming, everyone,” joked one of the committee members.

Another said something like, “Did someone throw a skunk in the rom?”

Senate Bill 267 is the most-closely-watched bill in what remains of the legislative session, the subject of intense up-and-down negotiations. The bill is legislators best hope to refill hundreds of millions of dollars that the state budget as it stands would slash from hospital budgets and to dedicate some significant funds to transportation upgrades after a major transportation bill failed to pass this week.

The bill was laid over last week in the Appropriations committee after sponsor Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican from Sterling, threatened to kill the bill out of frustration with the House Democratic leaders he was negotiating with. Hospitals in Sonnenberg’s rural eastern plains district are underfunded as things stand, so the slated $500 million cut to the the state’s hospitals would likely be devastating to health care and to the local health care industry his constituents depend upon.

The high-profile bill is co-sponsored in the Senate by Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, a Denver Democrat. She told the Colorado Statesman she thought negotiations had taken a turn for the better in the last few days.

Guzman said the four sponsors of the bill were meeting every day and often twice a day — Guzman, Sonnenberg along with House Majority Leader KC Becker from Boulder and Republican Rep. Jon Becker from Fort Morgan. Guzman said the not-unexpected failure on Tuesday of major transportation-funding proposal House Bill 1242 was influencing their conversations.

Democrats are hoping to move Sonnenberg to agree that more of the money his bill would move into the state general fund could remain there to support other state programs. In exchange, they would agree to dedicate a larger share of general fund revenue for years to come to transportation.

The Appropriations committee is where news of a deal — or news of the contours of a deal, at least — might have unfolded Thursday. There was no news, which is the news, which is all reporters needed, and so comically left the committee in a herd thirty seconds after it started.

John Tomasic

John Tomasic

John Tomasic is a senior political reporter for The Colorado Statesman covering the Colorado Legislature.