Joey BunchJoey BunchMarch 13, 20183min204

A bill that could bring faster internet to rural Colorado bounced out a Colorado House committee Thursday and appears destined for the governor's desk, eventually. Senate Bill 2, sponsored by Sens. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, with the two top-ranking House Democrats, passed the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee 10-1 Monday afternoon.


Marianne GoodlandMarianne GoodlandMarch 12, 20186min370
After years of frustration over slow or non-existent broadband service in rural Colorado, the General Assembly is poised to move at the speed of fiber optic to finally connect rural communities, and economic opportunity, to the Internet. In the past week, another measure that would make high-speed broadband service possible for rural schools, homes and […]

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Marianne GoodlandMarianne GoodlandMarch 11, 20187min252
Here are the legislative committee hearings of note for the week ahead at the Colorado Capitol. Committee schedules are subject to change. The daily schedule is available on the legislature’s website. Click here and scroll down to committee hearings to listen online. Some of the hottest bills of the session (civil rights, PERA reform) are up this week. […]

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Marianne GoodlandMarianne GoodlandJanuary 25, 20183min575
A broadband bill being fast-tracked this week through the General Assembly led a candidate for state treasurer to opine that Colorado’s expectations about broadband may not be realistic. During Thursday morning’s Senate debate on House Bill 1116, Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud said the bill raises concerns between what most rural Coloradans want from […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 23, 20177min1990

The Trump administration’s talk of a major infrastructure bill should not only look at modernizing the nation’s highways and broadband, but it also needs to lay a new foundation for water infrastructure, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said Wednesday.

The Denver Democrat touched on a variety of issues during a luncheon speech at the Colorado Water Congress summer conference in Steamboat Springs. He was scheduled to host a town hall in Steamboat later in the afternoon, the most recent in a series of a 17 public meetings around Colorado that Bennet has convened during the congressional August recess.

“We need to make sure our water systems gets just as much attention as highways and broadband,” Bennet told the audience of more than 300.

He explained that members of Congress are looking for ways to bring the public and private sectors together and inject new capital into rural water projects. He is already talking to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, local banks and investment companies to think that through. He asked the audience, which includes virtually every major water official in the state, to help figure out how to develop ideas to finance projects in ways that he said should make sense.

Bennet has already had a fair amount of success in finding federal funding for Colorado water. In the past few years, collaborating with other members of Colorado’s congressional delegation, Bennet said the state has won funding from the Department of Agriculture through the 2014 farm bill for water projects. That brought in about $26 million for projects impacting the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers, the new Chimney Hollow Reservoir west of Loveland and other projects across the state.

Bennet also said he has invited the new secretary of agriculture, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, to visit Colorado to see the condition of the state’s national forests. “If you live downstream of Colorado,” and Bennet said millions of people in 18 states do, “you should care about the health of our forests.”

“We’ve done a lot of work together on water and climate,” Bennet said. “The country is looking for leadership in a way that isn’t partisan, and Colorado is a perfect leader to meet that challenge.”

In a question and answer session following his remarks, audience members were just as interested in seeing what Bennet can do to address Washington gridlock as they were on climate change and water issues.

“I spent my whole first term trying to demonstrate to the people of Colorado that their government could still work, at a time when we thought it was pretty dysfunctional,” he said.

Few senators were going home to talk about what they accomplished with members of the other party, he said, preferring to spend time lambasting the other side.

Bennet pointed to several instances in which he worked with Republican senators during his first term, including as a member of the so-called “Gang of eight,” a group of four Democratic and four Republican senators that crafted immigration reform legislation. The measure overwhelmingly passed the U.S. Senate in 2013 but never came up for a vote in the House.

He also noted more successful efforts to speed up timelines for drug approvals with the Food and Drug Administration, legislation developed with Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina; and his work on the Every Student Succeeds Act, along with Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

But the 2016 election has produced a new level of dysfunction, he indicated. “Now it’s a little bit different – we have the dysfunction we’ve had before, and the budget issues from before. The priorities of Washington are decoupled from the priorities of Colorado” and the rest of the country. He said he could not have ever imagined that Trump “would be the remedy for that gap.”

Today, not only does Washington still operate in dysfunction, but that is now overlaid with a rejection of traditional American values, Bennet said. “When I think of President Trump, I do not think about the people in my state who are conservative. I don’t see their agenda in what he’s doing.”

Bennet said the mission of all Americans today must be to stand up for the rule of law, independence of the judiciary, checks and balances in government, and for the importance of the free press. And “we have to hold people in my job to a much higher standard. If we held our members of Congress to the same standards as county commissioners, this nonsense would be over in a minute.”

There’s a fundamental concern about where the nation is headed, and “it’s all of our job to figure out how to fix it,” Bennet concluded.

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After legislators adjourned the 120-day legislative session Wednesday night, they convened at Stoney’s Bar & Grill in downtown Denver. Gov. John Hickenlooper made the rounds with a message: Don’t make any vacation plans for the rest of May.

He told reporters Thursday he’s going to think about it through the weekend before deciding if he will call lawmakers back to Denver to work some more on transportation, funding the state energy office, health care policy and rural broadband internet, outcomes from the session that Hickenlooper called disappointing.

“With a special session you have a little more time and maybe bills can be assigned to a place where they can get a fair hearing, a public hearing,” the governor said.

“Then the media, therefore the entire state, can see exactly who’s saying what.”

An omnibus spending bill that passed on the last day of the session relies on existing state revenue. Transportation would get about $1.9 billion over the next 20 years. But from that, $500 million would go to rural infrastructure and $200 million to mass transit.

About $1.1 billion — parceled out by yearly budgeting — would go for “other” transportation needs, including clogged interstates that have driven most of the conversation to make massive new investments in the state’s transportation system.

Hickenlooper said that’s not nearly enough against $9 billion in identified needs, and eventually the state’s traffic jams are going to start hurting the state’s robust economy.

Asked by Colorado Politics what he would ask lawmakers to do differently, Hickenlooper suggested taking another look at sales taxes, but not the high 0.62 percent (on top of the state’s existing 2.9 percent), but something more reasonable might pass with voters in November.

“Let’s do it!” Sandra Hagen Solin of the business coalition Fix Colorado Roads said in a text message after the Hickenlooper’s meeting with reporters. “Let’s finish the conversation. Let’s find the middle ground on a proposal to fund our most pressing corridors that can be supported in both chambers and can secure a favorable vote by the voters.”

Legislative leaders shared a message for the governor: What’s the point?

“If he wants a tax hike, is there a legislature that’s going to put that on the ballot for him now?” Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, said in a statement. “Not this legislature, as we’ve already seen.

“Unless the governor can point to successes on any of these issues he’s guaranteed to have, he’ll just be wasting taxpayer dollars. I appreciate his desire to get things done. But we had an opportunity for him to have engaged on these issues during a 120-day session, and now it’s Day 121.”

House Speaker Crisanta Duran told reporters Senate Republicans have already demonstrated they won’t support a tax hike for roads, but instead want to take the money from other state programs and services. House Bill 1242, which she and Grantham co-sponsored, would have asked voters to pass a sales-tax hike in November to raise about $700 million a year.

“There were so many ideas incorporated in the 1242 that was the result of anybody willing to have the conversation, anybody who was willing to come to the table,” she said. “Unfortunately there were some who were just not willing to come to the table.”

With the centerpiece of the session in tatters, lawmakers were able to come together on a separate bill that will restructure the a state fee on hospital beds to move it out from under a constitutional spending cap that triggers rebates to taxpayers.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, said he wouldn’t call the session a failure — “no session is a failure” — even though fellow Senate Republicans rejected the transportation bill he negotiated and co-sponsored.

“Keep working on transportation,” he said Wednesday, as the session was finishing up. “That’s all we can do.”

The governor is also concerned that the legislature couldn’t come to an agreement on fully funding the Colorado Energy Office. Lawmakers came to an impasse on the last day of the session, severely crippling the energy office.

Broadband is another concern for the governor. Lawmakers were able to come up with $9.5 million to expand broadband into rural areas. But they weren’t able to come up with a steady more permanent stream of money.

Several of the governor’s priority health care bills also failed this year, including a bill that would have required hospitals to submit more information about how they spend the state’s Medicaid dollars.