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Hickenlooper lets nursing-degree bill become law without his signature

Authors: Mark Harden, Marianne Goodland - March 23, 2018 - Updated: March 24, 2018

foster childrenColorado Gov. John Hickenlooper sits for an interview in his office on Sept. 27. (Photo by Andy Colwell/Colorado Politics)

DENVER — A measure allowing Colorado’s community colleges to offer a bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN)  is becoming law — but not because Colorado’s governor signed it.

House Bill 1086 is aimed at helping to alleviate the state’s acute shortage of nurses at a time when the population is growing, as are demands on Colorado’s medical system.

Four-year bachelor of science nursing degrees traditionally have been bestowed by four-year colleges, not community colleges. But backers of the measure say that the demand for nurses isn’t being met by existing programs.

Gov. John Hickenlooper lauded the goal of addressing the nursing shortage. But in a letter to the Colorado House of Representatives on Friday,  he said he would let the measure become law on Saturday without his signature.

Why? Hickenlooper cited what he calls “two major flaws” with the bill.

First, he objected to the fact that it grants authority to the nine-member State Board for Community Colleges and Occupational Education, which governs the Colorado Community College System, to determine which two-year schools can offer four-year nursing degrees, and not the state Commission on Higher Education (CCHE).

The Democratic governor called that move “a highly questionable expansion of the role of Colorado’s community college system board. … While seemingly minor, this expansion of the role and mission could lead to program duplication (with four-year colleges) and inefficiencies in the higher-education system.”

Later in the letter, he decries “mission creep” by the community-colleges board.

Hickenlooper also complained of “limited outreach” by backers of HB 1086 “in not involving all relevant stakeholders and higher education institutions in crafting the legislation prior to enlisting sponsors.”

The bill was sponsored in the House by state Reps. Janet Buckner, D-Aurora, and Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, and in the Senate by Sens. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, and Irene Aguilar, D-Denver.

Lundeen disagrees with Hickenlooper’s assessment that the sponsors didn’t attempt to reach out to the opponents. He told Colorado Politics Friday that he was “very pleased” that House Bill 1086 will become law and that the governor acquiesced because he realized there’s a significant nursing shortage in the state.

“We offered a very attractive policy solution to that [shortage], tailored to acknowledge the CCHE’s engagement in the process moving forward. We did a good job of reaching out to all sides, giving everyone a chance to participate in a meaningful way.” More important than that, Lundeen said, students who want to get the BSN degree now have an additional pathway to get there.

Despite his objections, Hickenlooper said he was hopeful that the measure will “help lessen the nursing shortage.” He directed the CCHE to “convene the appropriate stakeholders to understand where the industry is moving and how best to align educational programs with those trends.”

The bill arose from discussions between Memorial Hospital of Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak Community College.

Officials from the University of Colorado, including the CU School of Nursing and the Anschutz Medical Center, testified against the measure when it was before the House in February. It also drew opposition from Denver’s Regis University and Grand Junction’s Colorado Mesa University, among other four-year schools, as well as from the CCHE.

Mark Harden

Mark Harden

Mark Harden is managing editor of Colorado Politics. He previously was news director at the Denver Business Journal; city editor, online news editor, state editor, national editor and popular music critic at The Denver Post; and an editor and reporter at newspapers in the Seattle area and San Francisco.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.