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House Democratic leaders talk final days of 2018 session

Author: Marianne Goodland - May 1, 2018 - Updated: May 10, 2018

CapitolThe gold dome of Colorado’s Capitol glistens in the sunlight. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

House Democrats are committed to wrapping up many of the same issues that Senate Republicans talked about Monday — the state pension plan, transportation, and reauthorizing the civil rights commission — but how they intend to get there couldn’t be more different. And that shows the divide that must be bridged in the remaining days of the 2018 session.

Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran of Denver and House Majority Leader KC Becker of Boulder noted some of the successes so far this session, including the passage of a bill to fund high-speed internet in rural communities, but with eight days the finish line is coming up fast.

Duran told reporters Tuesday that she’s willing to find common ground with the Senate on their changes to House Bill 1256, the measure to reauthorize the state’s Division of Civil Rights and Colorado Civil Rights Commission. A compromise in the Senate last Friday changed the commission’s appointment structure from seven to nine members, with five appointed by the governor and four by legislative leaders as well as dictating more business representation on the body. But that structure was rejected by both Duran and Gov. John Hickenlooper as too politicized. Duran said Tuesday she would consider one of the proposed changes — including a representative of small business — but said she had reservations on the other Senate changes.

Senate Bill 1, the top priority bill for Senate Republicans, is awaiting a Wednesday hearing in the House Transportation Committee. Duran said she wants to see a five percent boost in funding for multimodal projects, which could include mass transit or sidewalks. Current law sets a requirement of 10 percent.

Duran also spoke about the need to balance funding for transportation versus K-12 education, one of her top priorities. “When we’re talking transportation funding we need to be sure we’re investing in education and how those two requirements impact each other, she said.

The bill to shore up the Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA) defined benefit plan — Senate Bill 200 — cleared the House Tuesday on a 38-23 vote, with three Republicans voting in favor with the Democrats. The bill goes back to the Senate for a decision on House amendments, and a guaranteed need for a conference committee to work out the differences. Becker, one of the bill’s prime House sponsors, told reporters that putting back in a defined contribution plan (401K) that would allow PERA members to get out of the PERA defined benefit plan at any time is “off the table.” So is any attempts to mess with a $225 million annual contribution that would begin to resolve the plan’s $32 billion shortfall, an addition by House Democrats that replaced a requirement that employees make a larger contribution to the plan.

Monday, the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee put to an end the House Democrats’ top priority bill for 2018: House Bill 1001, which would have set up a fund for family leave, paid for by private and public sector employees. The bill was never expected to clear the Senate.

Becker said the bill had more value than as a “message bill,” a measure that is intended to act as a message to the party base rather than any expectation that it would become law. She said such bills are a learning experience and an opportunity to “nail down” sticking points with the other party and the other chamber. “We hope [Republicans] will take a real look” at the issue in the future, added Duran. “It doesn’t mean you don’t keep bringing it forward.”

House Bill 1001 was the fourth effort in as many years by House Democrats on a family leave bill, with all four bills getting the same results: dead in the Republican-controlled Senate.

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.