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Noonan: Late session bill dance frustrates citizens and reduces oversight

Author: Paula Noonan - May 15, 2017 - Updated: May 5, 2017

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Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

The last full week of the 2017 General Assembly had 220 bills still unfinished, with three bills introduced within five days of the end of session. Five big bills, two negotiated for wins and three up in the air, were on the docket.

SB17-267, the Sustainability of Rural Colorado bill, initially received support for its bipartisan effort to protect rural and some urban hospitals from losing money due to uncompensated care for low income patients. That straightforward task involved creating an enterprise fund for Hospital Provider Fee revenue.

To get conservative GOPers to accept that change, House and Senate leaders had to find money to offset business personal property taxes and transportation investments. They turned to the most tempting revenue sources, marijuana taxes and lease purchase arrangements for state owned buildings. And they upped the price of care for individual Medicaid patients.

The bill uses marijuana taxes to support the state’s public schools if they materialize, and an income tax credit for business personal property tax up to $15,000 will help business owners. Another $1.5 billion goes to transportation. Add all of it up and there’s a “little dab will do ya” for most big interests in the state. If interests were left out of this bill after May 10, they didn’t get in fast enough or they’re taken care of in other late action bills.

Legislators settled on a roughly 50 percent fix for condominium defects litigation and called that as good as it’s going to get. The late-introduced “Retail Sales of Alcohol Beverages” stirred up a bee hive with small liquor store retailers strenuously and correctly objecting that the bill was introduced May 2, giving only five days for hearings. Even House Finance committee members complained.

The methane gas explosion in Firestone prompted HB17-1372, introduced by two northern front range representatives, Mike Foote and Steve Lebsock, both Democrats. The house in Firestone burned to the ground when a severed pipe leaked gas that eventually settled in the basement of the residence. That event shuddered through communities sitting on oil and gas pipes, mostly north of Denver and way east past Weld county to the state borders.

The “Oil Gas Operators Disclose Pipe Location Development Plans” bill, introduced May 5, requires operators to show electronically where their pipes are. That bill must pass through committees and floor votes in both chambers in three days.

Fourteen bills introduced the first week of the session remained actively in progress if not in play. First week bills are often considered by members to be their most important pieces of legislation. When the bills get stuck, legislators toe tap as they hope their bills will move along.

Among the most important is HB17-1002, the Child Care Income Tax Credit Extension that was finally introduced in the Senate and assigned to Senate Finance May 3. The bill gives families tax credits of $500 for up to two children when their income is less than $25,000. That’s a substantially smaller credit than the $15,000 for business personal property tax. The bill reduces state revenues about $25 million from 2017 to 2020.

The Legislature goes through this late session dance every year, and every year citizens are left wondering what happened to their bill, wandering the halls of the Capitol looking for a committee hearing that’s been moved, rescheduled or canceled. To say it’s frustrating for the public is understatement.

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.