Civil rightsLegislatureNews

2018 Colo. legislature: Key players size up the game

Author: Joey Bunch - May 15, 2018 - Updated: May 31, 2018

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In this April 27 photograph, a teacher carries a placard in support of funding the teacher and other public sector workers’ pension fund during a rally in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado Politics reached out to leading organizations that keep an eye on the Capitol for their analyses of the four-month session that ended May 9. Here’s a roundup.

Colorado Education Association
The state teachers’ union closely followed changes to the public employees’ pension plan, which passed on the last night of the session. The $32 billion bailout plan for Colorado PERA calling on working members to pay 2 percent more into their retirement, for retirees to receive smaller cost-of-living raises and the state to put in $225 million a year.

We are very disappointed in our elected officials who did not support educators and retirees, and even chose to take money out of their pockets. SB-200 is a very unfortunate lesson in politics, reminding us that those in power who represent the people can still be completely tone deaf to their constituents, even when 15,000 of them marched on the Capitol little more than a week ago. I’m particularly upset that the level of state funding to shore up PERA, which was agreed upon since the House amendments passed, was reduced in the final moments. This is bad policy done in haste.

Good Business Colorado
The nonpartisan business coalition that leans left applauded legislators for reauthorizing the Colorado Civil Rights Division and Commission (CCRD).

Said Jim Smith, owner of Golden Real Estate and a Good Business Colorado member:

The Civil Rights Division saves Colorado small businesses from paying to retain a lawyer for advice on discrimination laws – that’s money kept in the pockets of business that can go towards employee pay or better deals for our clients and customers.

Said Luba Fridnerova, a Denver architect and a member of Good Business Colorado:

The CCRD has helped Colorado’s economy outperform almost every other state by ensuring that our businesses attract and retain a talented workforce, one that feels valued and respected. As a business owner, I’m relieved that the agency will continue to give employees, customers and community the confidence that they will be treated fairly and equally in our state.

Colorado Working Families Party
The state chapter of the national progressive organization also applauded re-authorization of the civil rights agency.

On behalf of all Coloradans who rely on the Colorado Civil Rights Division, we are pleased that the agency has been reauthorized. The final bill isn’t perfect but it keeps the CCRD strong and a valuable resource for those who have experienced discrimination and are seeking justice. Despite efforts by Republicans to weaken and even defund the agency, Coloradans mobilized and stood up to defend the CCRD. This is their victory.

Colorado oil and gas
(Photo by Andy Colwell/Colorado Politics)

The Colorado Petroleum Council
The oil and gas industry trade group cited the progress on “establishing clear and smart regulations” that will help the industry, as well as improve safety and environmental standards.

Said Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council:

It’s important that we put in place smart policies that further Colorado’s economy and energy leadership for the benefit of consumers and the communities that are supported by Colorado’s growing natural gas and oil industry. We look forward to continuing our work with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and communities throughout the state to drive the highest safety standards for workers and the environment.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association
A state organization that represents oil and gas producers also found reason to be happy. Said Dan Haley, COGA’s president and CEO:

Bipartisanship is supposed to be an anomaly during an election year, yet on the energy front in 2018, we saw a handful of bills with Democrat and Republican support make their way to the governor’s desk.  Notably, bipartisan legislation passed to strengthen the 811 one-call system, setting rigorous requirements for excavation. There was also bipartisan support to increase air permits for our industry, allowing the state health department to continue conducting its important work; bipartisan support for the diversification of the Colorado Energy Office; and bipartisan support for the expansion of new waste disposal regulations. Finally, we also saw bipartisan support to improve the state’s outdated oil and natural gas pooling laws, bringing them into the 21st century and providing new public notification resources and requirements. Industry supported all of these bills, because while divided government often leads to contentious and dramatic public dialogue, it can also lead to meaningful legislation, and we were happy to see that occur in the Colorado General Assembly in 2018.

Conservation Colorado
Copper Mountain (Photo by John Holm, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Conservation Colorado
The state’s largest environmental organization cited four policy advances this session.

First, the reauthorization of the lottery in order to fund Great Outdoors Colorado and a bill to increase revenue for parks and wildlife will ensure that our public lands are maintained for years to come. Second, the passage of bills to allow the use of reclaimed water for toilet flushing and agriculture will help to conserve our Rocky Mountain water. Third, Colorado became the first state in the nation to give consumers the right to store the energy they generate from their solar panels is another step forward in our transition to clean energy. Lastly, we were pleased to see the passage of several bills that will support rural communities and their transitioning economies like Sen. (Kerry) Donovan’s broadband bill.

Even with these victories, this session saw Senate Republicans once again prioritizing corporate profits over people. For example, a bill to protect our rivers and streams from mining pollution was sent to the Senate’s kill committee. Republican legislators also introduced bills to keep Colorado from taking proactive steps to curb climate change while Democrats witnessed the death of their bills that would have set aggressive goals for limiting carbon pollution. Despite hundreds of Coloradans speaking out, a handful of out-of-touch senators killed a bipartisan bill supporting electric vehicle infrastructure. And, for yet another year, the oil and gas lobby ensured that many commonsense bills to protect the health and safety of Coloradans were killed, including bills to keep drilling away from school playgrounds; to increase reporting of fires, spills, injuries, and deaths; and to map oil and gas flowlines so we can try to avoid another Firestone tragedy.

adoptions
One Colorado executive director Daniel Ramos speaks at a rally at the state Capitol in February in defense of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. (Photo courtesy of One Colorado via Facebook)

One Colorado
The state’s largest advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Coloradans and their families, saw wins and losses.

As we have done over previous legislative sessions, we worked on bills that would have banned the harmful, discredited practice of conversion therapy on LGBTQ minors, and would have reduced barriers for transgender Coloradans to have a birth certificate that reflects who they are. For the fourth year in a row however, both of these pro-LGBTQ bills were marked for death by Senate Republican leadership, and defeated in a Republican-controlled Senate committee after passing the House with bipartisan support. It is clear that if these bills are ever going to pass, one seat in the Colorado State Senate needs to be flipped so Colorado can have a new majority that is pro-equality and will stand up for all Coloradans, including LGBTQ Coloradans.

Both the so-called ‘Live and Let Live Act’ and the ‘Colorado Children First Act’ were broad, religious exemption bills that were targeted at LGBTQ Coloradans. Had they passed, they would have rolled back years of protections and progress for LGBTQ Coloradans and their families. Thankfully, both were defeated in their respective chambers, which is a victory for all of Colorado. But the fact these two anti-LGBTQ bills were pushed at the same time two pro-LGBTQ bills were killed is gravely concerning. These bills run counter to Colorado’s values, and I am thankful that both Democratic and Republican lawmakers voted to ensure they did not make it to the Governor’s desk.

At a time when we’re seeing actions by the Trump administration to chip away at protections for lesbian, gay, bixsexual, transgender, and queer people, it is more important than ever that Colorado remains ahead of the curve. That is why it was so chilling when three Republicans on the Joint Budget Committee blocked funding for the Colorado Civil Rights Division back in February — an agency that has existed for decades to protect the civil rights of all Coloradans, including LGBTQ Coloradans. At the end of the day, we wanted to ensure that Colorado had a civil rights division and commission that can effectively protect the civil rights of all Coloradans. I am pleased that today, on the last day of session, Democratic and Republican members of the House and Senate were able to come together on a compromise that ensures the future of such a critical agency in our state.

Americans for Prosperity
Members of Americans for Prosperity in Colorado lobbied at the state Capitol in February. (Photo courtesy of Americans for Prosperity via Facebook)

Americans for Prosperity
The conservative organization keeps and eye on the policy and politics around business issues.

Said state director Jesse Mallory, a former chief of staff for Senate Republicans:

Lawmakers need to step up for everyday Coloradans, and this session left barriers in the way for workers and entrepreneurs. When the House of Representatives killed occupational licensing reform (SB193 and SB236), lawmakers kicked the can down the road on delivering the sort of regulatory reform that can get people to work right away.

Instead they chose to limit opportunity and protect the status quo. But one moment of clarity broke through when the Senate struck down HB1298 which would have pushed Obamacare-style mandates on private businesses by forcing them to offer retirement savings accounts directed by a politically-appointed board.

Terrapin Care Station
Peter Marcus, a former Colorado Politics reporter, is now the spokesman for the national cannabis company based in Boulder. This was his pot-focused appraisal.

Marijuana consumers were the biggest winners this legislative session. In passing House Bill 1258, the Colorado Legislature approved cannabis tasting rooms, finally providing a safe place for people to consume marijuana. The bipartisan legislation takes cannabis use off of streets and out of parks, while creating a map of where not to take children if you want to limit youth exposure.

The bill was the culmination of four years of meetings, resulting in a compromise that prohibits smoking and provides total local control so that municipalities can decide whether they want tasting rooms in their communities. Proponents of the legislation are proud to see the Marijuana Enforcement Division call the bill an “incremental approach,” as it would curb a proliferation of clubs while regulators wrap their brains around enforcement. The Colorado Legislature took a major step forward this year in honoring the will of Colorado voters when it comes to marijuana normalization.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.