Peter MarcusMay 14, 20179min418

Prior to the start of the legislative session in January, Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham said restructuring a hospital fee to raise money for state services was off the table.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Democrat, said the point was so lost, it was the definition of insanity for her party to keep asking.

Republicans prior to the session also pushed a familiar narrative of using existing tax revenue and fighting against any tax increases.

But then came bills backed by prominent high-profile Republicans aimed at a tax increase for roads and a restructuring of the Hospital Provider Fee.

While the $3.5 billion transportation proposal never gained enough GOP support to send the issue to voters, historic progress was made on the Hospital Provider Fee, which cleared the divided legislature with GOP support.

It was a remarkable evolution from where the subject stood just months earlier, and from last year under Republican Senate President Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs. Much of the caucus had always claimed restructuring the fee was a violation of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, considered a Holy Grail to conservative interests.

“It wasn’t a unanimous thing within our caucus, it was a pretty tough thing,” Grantham said of the effort this year to create a 20-year funding program directing $1.8 billion towards critical services, including for schools, roads and hospitals.

“I started the session off talking about this being a nonstarter. The proposal that we saw for the last two years was completely unappetizing for us and there was nothing about it that I wanted anything to do with.”

A dire situation
But then rural hospitals were placed in jeopardy. State budget writers were forced to reduce the fee on hospital-bed occupancy by $264 million in an effort to balance the budget. With a federal match, hospitals in Colorado stood to lose about $528 million. Some rural hospitals said they would close. And with transportation funding bills in trouble, lawmakers also had to search for alternatives.

Enter Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican from rural Sterling, who realized that he was dealing with a literal life or death situation in rural parts of the state where people might not be able to access emergency health care.

“I know it’s the right thing to do for rural Colorado, we can’t continue to balance the budget on the back of hospitals,” Sonnenberg said.

But the move could prove to be problematic for Republicans who supported the effort, as they are sure to face backlash from conservative interests.

“I’m already getting beat up on social media,” Sonnenberg said. “The truth is, I get beat up for a lot of things. For me, it’s the right thing to do for rural Colorado.”

Sonnenberg was able to rally support for the fee restructuring by also lowering the state spending cap base by $200 million to protect taxpayer rebates and by addressing Medicaid reform by increasing co-pays for Medicaid patients. The legislation also created a credit for businesses paying taxes on business equipment, another popular issue for the GOP.

Still, several members of the caucus opposed the Hospital Provider Fee shift, as well as the tax increase for roads. But Republican leaders said they wanted to provide a long leash for members to be able to work on the issues, and to reach across the aisle to Democrats.

“I am proud that we have a caucus of members, 18 people who know that their vote is something that they are accountable for to their constituents,” said Senate Republican Leader Chris Holbert of Parker, who opposed the Hospital Provider Fee bill. “I’ve said before, ‘I didn’t hire them, and I can’t fire them.’ I look at my role as majority leader more as a team captain.”

Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, one of the more conservative members of the caucus, also opposed the legislation. But he said he never felt any pressure.

“Caucus members were at odds on different things that they felt were critical to their constituents and some ideological issues, but as far as the process of working with the president and majority leader, it was a very good year there,” Neville said.

The question is just how much backlash will come from conservative groups. Americans for Prosperity called the recent legislative session its “strongest session yet” and chose not to lash out at Republicans who supported the controversial efforts this year.

“We worked hard to inform citizens and legislators about policies that impact economic freedom,” said AFP state director Michael Fields. “We thank the senators and representatives that voted to make government live within its means, prioritize the state budget, and protect free choice.”

The conservative group pointed out that it saw the defeat of the transportation tax hike proposal; a start towards equal funding for charter schools; construction defect litigation reform; the death of a bipartisan measure that would have changed how TABOR works; a failure to advance additional restrictions on the oil and gas industry; and a reduction in film production incentives.

But the transportation issue remains a thorny topic.

“The debate over transportation funding was a debacle this session,” Fields said. “With billions of dollars needed to fix our roads, reprioritizing the budget to meet the needs of Colorado’s infrastructure will remain critical in future years.”

A willingness to strike a deal
Perhaps the biggest change in tone over last year was the legislature’s willingness to work together this year to push issues across the finish line.

“They were able to find words to put on paper that moved that ball forward, and that’s what I would encourage constituents to consider,” Holbert said. “It may not be the word ‘compromise,’ it may not be giving up half of what one wants in exchange for half of what one does not want.”

Sonnenberg added, “There’s too much emphasis on compromise and not enough emphasis on actually finding the common ground that we can agree on.”

Senate Democratic Leader Lucia Guzman of Denver agreed that there was a shift in tone over last year that helped advance certain critical issues. And over in the Democratic-controlled House, Speaker Duran had similar thoughts.

“This session … was representative of making sure that we have people who are willing to have tough conversations about issues that can be very challenging, and that throughout the negotiations process that nobody ever locks down and says, ‘No, no, no,’” Duran said. “And that if there is an issue that is challenging, or if there are particular things that one party wants that the other cannot do, then what can you do? What is possible?”



Peter MarcusMay 12, 20176min633

The Colorado House on Wednesday – the last day of the legislative session – had perhaps the most “Colorado” marijuana legislative debate ever. But it got weird.

An effort to define the prohibition on “open and public” marijuana consumption devolved into a bizarre debate over whether people could smoke pot on their front porches.

“People have asked, ‘How does this impact my edible consumption? I like to put trays and buffets of edibles all around my front porch and consume to my heart’s content. How will this affect that practice?’ The answer is it won’t have any impact at all, because this only has to do with lighting up a joint or smoking a bong,” said Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, who led the charge in the House.

“Someone else said, ‘What about my vaporizer pen? Sometimes I walk into the Capitol and I have my vaporizer pen. Will this impact my use of the vaporizer pen?’ The answer is ‘no.’ This will have no impact on using your vaporizer pen. You can have 100 people on the front porch; 1,000 if your front porch is that big.”

And Pabon was the rationale one. The debate got as loopy as an edible gone wrong, spurring a competition between the 1990s television sitcoms “Friends” and “Martin.”

“Oh. My. God.”

No, I’m not making this up. It seemed like the whole legislature was high.

The legislation, which was focused on the “open and public” issue, was amended to address porch smoking. A compromise would have allowed porch smoking as long as it involved only five people other than the residents of the home, what lawmakers referred to as a “party of five” rule, also triggering memories of ’90s.

Lawmakers met twice in negotiations to discuss the front porch issue. But the House couldn’t come to agreement, rejecting the compromise, meaning the two chambers couldn’t reach a deal.

While that debate on those discussions went on, critical bills remained on the calendar. One of those measures would have fully funded the Colorado Energy Office. That bill failed, meaning staff members might lose their jobs at the Energy Office. Some say a compromise could have been reached on that. Who knows? What’s for sure is that lawmakers sure spent a lot of time talking “chronic” on the front porch.

“Smelly cat, smelly cat, it’s not your fault.”

I asked Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, what he thought about having a marijuana “party of five” on his front porch. “My porch?” he laughed, before getting serious. “I have a 14-year-old son. There will be no pot anywhere remotely close to my porch.”

So, how the heck did “Friends” and “Martin” get dragged into this pretty absurd debate? An image of the cast of “Friends” was displayed to lawmakers to demonstrate which of them could get high on the porch and which couldn’t. Apparently Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, is not a fan of the show.

“I didn’t watch a lot of ‘Friends,’ I watched ‘Martin,’ and Martin was the only one who lived in his building, so it would be okay for Martin and Gina and Pam and Cole to smoke, but if Bruh-Man and Sheneneh came over, then one of them’s got to sit out,” Melton said.

“You so crazy!”

Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, accused his colleagues of attempting to ban getting drunk on your front porch also.

“You guys can’t throw parties in your house anymore with alcohol because marijuana is supposed to be regulated the same way,” he claimed.

Things fell so far down the pothole that at one point the debate turned to ashing out a pipe, which Urban Dictionary defines as, “The state of completion of a pipe or other smoking device reaches once all the substance within it is reduced to ash.”

Melton referred to the proposal as “limitations that literally say that you can smoke and you can have five friends that smoke, but if your neighbor comes over then somebody’s got to ash it out, or somebody’s got to sit and watch.”

“Yes, we’re talking about ash now,” Melton laughed, as an obstreperous and often distracted chamber occasionally listened in.

I don’t know if it gets anymore Colorado than what happened in the legislature on Wednesday. I’m also not sure I’ve seen it any weirder. I’m just sad they didn’t settle the debate over whether “Friends” or “Martin” is the better show.

“Step!”


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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.



Peter MarcusMay 10, 20174min739

The Colorado Energy Office will be crippled after lawmakers on the last day of the session on Wednesday were unable to agree to a measure that would have continued full funding for it.

In its original form, Senate Bill 301 – described by Republicans as “far-reaching” – would have maintained funding for the Colorado Energy Office, while restructuring it and doing away with certain programs. It was supported by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Energy Office.

Without the full funding – about $3.1 million – the office will see significant cuts in personnel, deeply cutting into its ability to provide core environmental and energy services.

The Republican-controlled Senate had included provisions that would have made changes to a host of renewable energy and other programs in the state, including eliminating some of those programs.

The Senate version would have expanded the Colorado Energy Office’s focus to include nuclear and hydropower, while giving the oil and gas industry a greater voice at the table.

It also focused heavily on natural gas, aiming at eliminating a prohibition on investor-owned utilities owning natural gas reserves. Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said the prohibition raises costs for consumers.

An investor-owned utility is owned by private investors and members. The legislation would have directed the state to create rules allowing an investor-owned utility to acquire an interest in Colorado-based natural gas reserves for up to 50 percent of its needs.

A provision of the legislation also would have raised registration fees for electric vehicles, which had some Democratic lawmakers concerned.

When the original 57-page bill made it to the Democratic-controlled House – a measure that was introduced in the final days of the session and died on the last day of the session – Democrats approved a trimmed bill, which would have continued funding for the Colorado Energy Office, but also would have stripped many of the provisions stemming from the Senate.

“Losing the office would have been a disaster for Colorado. So rather than lose it, or lard up the reauthorization with giveaways to the oil and gas industry, we passed a clean bill,” said House Democratic Leader KC Becker of Boulder, just prior to the Senate rejecting the House’s version of the bill.

The discussion became bogged down in politics, especially following a recent home explosion in Firestone linked to natural gas leaking from an old pipeline. The incident killed two men.

Knowing that the Energy Office would be significantly reduced by rejecting the House version of the bill, Scott responded, “It’s their choice now,” referring to House Democrats.

Becker responded, “This late bill included sweeping changes to energy policy and concessions to the oil and gas industry, many of which I could not support. Mixing these new changes in with the work of the Energy Office turned the bill into something that was untenable.”



Peter MarcusMay 10, 20174min553

A last-minute compromise to fund charter schools crossed the finish line in the legislature Wednesday after days of back-and-forth negotiations.

House Bill 1375 was introduced in an effort to save overall school funding in the School Finance Act after a bipartisan effort was proposed to amend the school finance bill to add the charter school component.

Fearing that the critical School Finance Act would fall victim to political wrangling – as the charter issue crosses political lines – lawmakers introduced a separate bill on the subject and stripped the charter proposal from the larger mandated school funding bill, which would provide $6.5 billion for K-12 education.

Integral in that process was Colorado Springs Republican Sen. Owen Hill and Lakewood Democratic Rep. Brittany Pettersen.

“My priority is to always seek out new ways in which we can shift the focus on education in Colorado from a discussion about systems and institutions to one that emphasizes each students’ individual needs, goals, and dreams,” Hill said in a statement. “We are one giant leap closer to putting Colorado’s children and families first in all education decisions.”

The bill requires school districts to develop a plan before the 2019-2020 school year to equitably share mill levy revenue in a given district.

House Bill 1375 passed the House Tuesday 49-16 and then the Senate Wednesday – on the last day of the legislative session – 31-4. It now heads to Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, for his signature.

The idea is to eventually distribute revenue from local property taxes equally to charters on a per pupil basis. It would address revenue from additional property taxes that are used to pay for operations.

Districts that charters are tied to have been known to withhold from charters the additional tax money, which comes from mill levy overrides.

In addition to the attempt in the School Finance Act, a separate bill this session on the issue, Senate Bill 61, was lost in a House committee on Tuesday to make room for the compromise.

When the conversation started, charter supporters attempted to require that districts share both mill levy revenue as well as an equal share of per pupil funding. But the compromise asks districts to first develop a plan for sharing the revenue, while allowing them to continue to withhold 5 percent of per pupil revenue.

Colorado charters have experienced a 30 percent increase in enrollment since 2013, according to the Colorado Department of Education.

Much of the concern around the charter measures dealt with financial impacts to school districts and issues surrounding local control. But supporters of the compromise believe they have found a way to fairly begin the process of sharing money.

Pettersen said of the effort, “I’m thrilled after months of negotiations, we were finally able to come together to solve this outstanding issue in a fair way that prioritizes equity for all of Colorado students.”



Peter MarcusMay 10, 20174min357

It was a difficult pill for many lawmakers to swallow, but in an example of bipartisan compromise, lawmakers on Wednesday advanced a measure to provide money for roads, schools and hospitals.

On a vote of 49-16 – on the last day of the legislative session – the House advanced a measure to create a 20-year funding program to direct $1.8 billion towards critical infrastructure.

Senate Bill 267 serves as an example of evolution, after Republicans for years resisted restructuring the Hospital Provider Fee to free money for state spending.

But 12 Republicans supported the bill during its final vote Wednesday morning in the House, despite facing pushback from outside conservative groups and interests outside the legislature.

“I hate the fact that we have to vote on this bill today because I know that by the time I get back to my desk the Facebook posts will start,” said Rep. Lois Landgraf, a Republican from Fountain, adding that people have been calling her a “Republican in name only,” or “RINO.”

Republicans have felt that the issue should have gone to voters. But by lowering the state spending cap by $200 million to protect taxpayer rebates and by addressing Medicaid reform by increasing co-pays for Medicaid patients, enough GOP lawmakers were able to come around.

The impetus for the bill was saving rural hospitals. The bill would reverse a budget move this year that reduced the Hospital Provider Fee by $264 million in an effort to balance the budget. The fee is assessed on hospitals to force a match of larger federal health care dollars. With the federal match, hospitals in Colorado stand to lose about $528 million. Some rural hospitals said they would close.

Senate Bill 267 would require that at least 25 percent of the money from bonding go toward projects in rural Colorado, with county populations of 50,000 or less.

The bill also comes after lawmakers failed to pass meaningful transportation funding by either advancing a tax increase to voters or using existing resources and a bond program. The state faces a $9 billion shortfall in transportation funding.

Schools were also a critical component of the bill. The measure would allocate $30 million to rural districts over three years. Lawmakers have proposed paying for the school funding by raising marijuana taxes from 13 percent to 15 percent.

It also would aim at avoiding a cut to the Senior Homestead Exemption, while also including a credit for businesses paying taxes on business equipment. Marijuana money would also help with that.

“Let us never allow a fear to decide what is best for the state for years to come,” said House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver. “Today, Senate Bill 267, it is not a long-term solution, and we still have many issues that we need to be able to grapple with, but this is a moment … it shows the power of collaboration.”



Peter MarcusMay 9, 20174min339

Pegged as one of the most important bills of the legislative session, a last-ditch effort to fund transportation, schools and hospitals appears poised to cross the finish line.

After hours of debate on Monday, which continued into early Tuesday morning, the House backed an effort to create a 20-year bond program to direct $1.8 billion towards critical infrastructure.

A host of amendments were offered during the hours-long debate, as attempts were made to find existing funding. Democrats, who control the House, shot down those amendments, suggesting that the $26.8 billion proposed budget is already stretched.

“We made a very tight state budget more responsive to the needs of our state and its people without taking any Coloradans for granted or leaving any Coloradans behind,” House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, said in a statement. “This is not the long-term solution to our structural budget problems, but it buys us some time.”

Senate Bill 267 still faces a final vote in the legislature on Wednesday – the last day of the legislative session – before it can go to Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, for his signature.

The bill would reverse a budget move this year that reduced the Hospital Provider Fee by $264 million in an effort to balance the budget. The fee is assessed on hospitals to force a match of larger federal health care dollars. With the federal match, hospitals in Colorado stand to lose about $528 million. Some rural hospitals said they would close.

It would reclassify the fee on hospital-bed occupancy as an enterprise fund to get out from under the state spending cap, while also lowering the spending cap base by $200 million to protect taxpayer rebates.

Senate Bill 267 would require that at least 25 percent of the money from bonding go toward projects in rural Colorado, with county populations of 50,000 or less.

The legislation is the result of the legislature’s failure to advance more significant transportation funding. One measure would have raised the state sales tax in an effort to address a $9 billion shortfall in transportation funding. Another measure would have used existing taxes and a $3.5 billion bond program to pay for roads and highways.

With lawmakers ready to cross the finish line on Senate Bill 267, legislative leaders can point to an example of compromise that took a leap of faith for both Republicans and Democrats.

In a sign of the bill’s urgency, the measure passed the Senate Monday morning and two House committees Monday afternoon before receiving initial approval from the House on Tuesday.

Republicans have been skeptical of restructuring the Hospital Provider Fee for years, arguing that the issue should have gone to voters. But by lowering the state spending cap to protect taxpayer rebates and by addressing Medicaid reform by increasing co-pays for Medicaid patients, enough GOP lawmakers were able to come around.

The measure also would address schools, with $30 million allocated to rural districts over three years. Lawmakers have proposed paying for the school funding by raising marijuana taxes from 13 percent to 15 percent.

It also would aim at avoiding a cut to the Senior Homestead Exemption, while also including a credit for businesses paying taxes on business equipment. Marijuana money would also help with that.

“This bill is entitled ‘Sustainability of Rural Colorado,’ and we certainly focused on rural hospitals and rural schools,” Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Boulder, told the House. “But Coloradans across this state will benefit.”


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Peter MarcusMay 8, 20176min351

A measure aimed at restructuring energy policy in Colorado was overshadowed Monday by a recent home explosion in Firestone linked to natural gas leaking from an old pipeline.

Democrats attempted to amend Senate Bill 301 – a 57-page piece of legislation that focuses heavily on natural gas and the Colorado Energy Office – to address mapping existing gas lines.

The bill passed the Senate Monday on an initial vote, but without the amendments. It still must pass the chamber on a recorded vote Tuesday, before advancing to the House, where a Democratic majority is likely to kill it.

The conversation took shape after the recent devastating event in Firestone, where a home that sits 178 feet from a well exploded, killing two men in a devastating explosion. The bodies of brothers-in-law Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin, both 42, were discovered in the basement one day after the explosion. Martinez’s wife, Erin, was seriously injured.

A separate piece of legislation introduced by Democrats in the House Friday also would require oil and gas companies to provide clear maps to the public showing where pipelines are located, though that faces an uphill battle.

In the case of the Firestone explosion, an underground line had been cut about 10 feet from the house, state regulators said. Gas seeped through the ground and into the basement, where it exploded on April 17.

Senate Republicans have made it clear that it is unlikely legislation would pass through the divided legislature this year with three days left in the session. But that didn’t stop Democrats from trying.

Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, a vocal critic of the oil and gas industry, pushed failed amendments to Senate Bill 301 that would have addressed the issue of gas flowlines.

“I can’t tell you how awful I feel about what happened in Firestone … it’s tragic,” Jones said. “I waited to see what they would find and they found it was a flowline … We have a moral responsibility to try to not have that happen ever again.”

State and industry officials have acknowledged that they do not know where every flowline in the state exists, especially older abandoned ones, as was the case in Firestone. But Republicans worry about rushing to action.

“I always worry about knee-jerk reactions to anything,” said Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. “It’s smarter for us to wait for the final results.”

Another failed amendment offered by Jones would have created a 2,000-foot setback around homes from oil and gas operations. Jones said the fact that his amendments did not pass over GOP objections indicates that “the oil and gas industry has a strangle-hold on Republican legislators.”

Industry representatives say they are worried about jurisdictional issues with a patchwork of agencies regulating a mapping program. The industry is also concerned about rushing to legislation this year.

Senate Bill 301 – described by Republicans as far-reaching – would maintain funding for the Colorado Energy Office, while restructuring it and doing away with certain programs. It is supported by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Energy Office.

Environmental interests, however, worry that the bill is being rushed through the legislature with just days left in the session.

While the bill would maintain funding for the Energy Office so that it is not eliminated, it would make changes to a host of renewable energy and other programs in the state, including eliminating some of those programs.

The legislation would expand the Colorado Energy Office’s focus to include nuclear and hydropower, while giving the oil and gas industry a greater voice at the table.

“This is a last-minute bill crafted by Republican senators with input only from a few chosen stakeholders,” said Theresa Conley, advocacy director for Conservation Colorado. “That reality is reflected in the bill, which is a non-starter for anyone but the natural gas industry.”

Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, the sponsor of the legislation, said his main focus is on bolstering natural gas in the state. The bill would eliminate a prohibition on investor-owned utilities owning natural gas reserves. Scott said the prohibition raises costs for consumers.

An investor-owned utility is owned by private investors and members. The legislation would direct the state to create rules allowing an investor-owned utility to acquire an interest in Colorado-based natural gas reserves for up to 50 percent of its needs.

But concerns also exist around that provision. Some fear it would allow utilities to pass acquisition costs on to ratepayers.

“We need to shift to wind and solar energy as quickly as we can,” Jones said. “Unfortunately, this bill is going to promote gas which pollutes and contributes to climate change.”



Peter MarcusMay 8, 20174min341

A Republican effort to repeal the state’s health-insurance exchange is a lost cause in the GOP-controlled Senate, despite Republicans making it a priority this year.

First mentioned in Senate President Kevin Grantham’s opening day speech – at which time he said it was “time for us to shed some of the dead weight of failed government policy” – Republican leaders on Monday decided to end the effort.

“What’s happened is a little bit less action on the national level than what we anticipated, that we could get our federal partners to move a little bit quicker,” Grantham said Monday morning.

Republicans had held strong on the issue at the start of the legislative session in January, even as protesters gathered on the steps outside the legislature for a demonstration opposing the Republican effort to repeal Connect for Health Colorado, the state’s marketplace for purchasing health insurance.

Senate Bill 3 passed the Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 7. It then wasn’t advanced from the appropriations committee until April 6. The bill has been sitting on the Senate floor since April 10. On Monday, Republican leadership delayed a vote on the bill until after the legislative session, effectively killing the measure.

It faced an uphill battle even if the bill made it out of the Senate, as Democrats vowed to kill the measure in the House.

“Our communities called and emailed us with one clear message, they didn’t want their state legislature to take their health care away,” said Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood. “With this bill’s defeat, Colorado’s hardworking families, mothers, senior citizens, and children can rest easy that unlike Republicans in Congress, their state senators will not be working to take away their health care.”

When Republicans first pushed the measure in January, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jim Smallwood, R-Parker, who has a background in insurance brokerage, lamented that despite the exchange, insurance rates in Colorado have skyrocketed. He pointed to rural parts of the state and that fewer companies are offering plans. Smallwood said taxpayers should not be providing millions of dollars for a system that has not worked.

Under Smallwood’s proposal, the exchange would have been repealed on Jan. 1, 2018. Any leftover money would have been transferred to the general fund for discretionary spending.

But the repeal effort came as uncertainty continues to surround what a Republican Congress will do with the Affordable Care Act. Since the exchange was born out of the ACA, it’s possible that a repeal of the federal health care law would send the issue back to the states to resolve, in which an exchange might still be required.

“We thought we had that done where we could get our federal partners to move a little bit quicker,” Grantham said. We thought we had that done where we could actually be able to make the case that the exchange is no longer necessary under the new circumstances in D.C. We’re still waiting for the new circumstance in D.C.”


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Peter MarcusMay 8, 20174min355

State lawmakers say they have a deal that can mitigate some of the failures from not advancing a full transportation funding measure this year in the legislature.

The proposal would create a 20-year bond program to direct $1.8 billion towards critical infrastructure, including roads and highways.

Senate Bill 267 comes after a centerpiece transportation funding bill – a multi-billion dollar effort that would have raised the state sales tax for roads and highways – failed last month.

A separate effort, Senate Bill 303, would use existing taxes and a $3.5 billion bond program to pay for roads and highways. But the bill faces an uphill battle in a divided legislature and legislative leaders aren’t holding out much hope.

That leaves Senate Bill 267, a dramatic example of compromise that appears poised to cross the finish line.

“It’s fair to both sides. It helps rural Colorado. There’s some things that cause the Democrats to cringe to vote ‘yes’ and there’s things in there that are going to cause Republicans to cringe to vote ‘yes.’ But I think it’s the right thing to do,” said Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who has been leading talks for Republicans.

The bill received a final 25-10 vote in the Senate on Monday. It now heads to the House for consideration. With three days left in the session, time is critical.

The sticking point in the conversation had been over Medicaid reform. Republicans said the deal that was reached with Democrats included a requirement that co-pays for Medicaid patients be set at the maximum level set by the federal government. Democrats, however, said that was never part of the deal.

A compromise was reached to increase co-pays for Medicaid patients but not up to the federal maximum for outpatient services.

The bill would reverse a budget move this year that reduced the Hospital Provider Fee by $264 million in an effort to balance the budget. The fee is assessed on hospitals to force a match of larger federal health care dollars. With the federal match, hospitals in Colorado stand to lose about $528 million.

It would reclassify the fee on hospital-bed occupancy as an enterprise fund to get out from under the state spending cap, while also lowering the spending cap base by $200 million to protect taxpayer rebates.

Senate Bill 267 would require that at least 25 percent of the money from bonding go toward projects in rural Colorado, with county populations of 50,000 or less.

The measure also would address schools, with $30 million allocated to rural districts over three years. Lawmakers have proposed paying for the school funding by raising marijuana taxes.

It also would aim at avoiding a cut to the Senior Homestead Exemption, while also including a credit for businesses paying taxes on business equipment. Marijuana money would also help with that.

Legislative leaders had made transportation funding a priority this session. It appears they won’t come up with the $9 billion needed to cover the shortfall in transportation funding that the state faces, but legislative leaders believe they will take a large step by the end of Wednesday.

“It does enough for now,” said Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City. “We’ll still probably see measures on the ballot, even if 267 gets to the finish line.”