A ceremony will take place Friday at an Eastern Plains hospital to celebrate funding for rural facilities after Gov. John Hickenlooper was criticized for not signing legislation there.
The Colorado Hospital Association organized an event at Lincoln Community Hospital in Hugo to celebrate passage of Senate Bill 267, an omnibus that provided money for roads, schools and hospitals.
The bipartisan group of lawmakers who sponsored the bill are expected to attend the event, including Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, and Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who criticized Hickenlooper earlier this month for not signing the bill at the Hugo hospital.
The two Republicans said Hickenlooper was unwilling to work with them on a signing ceremony at Lincoln Community. They said his decision is going to make it difficult to work with the governor in the future.
“While we know the governor has the authority to sign bills wherever he wants, I am disappointed that it seems bill signings have become all about him. Legislators don’t have taxpayer funded airplanes and transportation to keep up with the governor’s whims,” Sonnenberg told Colorado Politics earlier this month.
“He had three weeks to work with us on this very important bill and he refused. If he considers that working together, I can’t wait to show him how that goes both ways next session,” Becker added.
Hickenlooper’s office said at the time that it was simply a matter of scheduling, and that the bill was still signed in a rural part of the state, east of Pueblo.
The governor is not on the list of expected attendees for Friday’s event, which is scheduled for 2 p.m. His office said it did not receive an official invite through its online system.
Also on the list of expected attendees is House Democratic Leader KC Becker of Boulder and Senate Democratic Leader Lucia Guzman of Denver, who were also sponsors of Senate Bill 267.
The driving force behind the bill, which creates a 20-year funding program to direct $1.8 billion towards critical infrastructure, had to do with the potential for rural hospitals to close because of a lack of funding.
Senate Bill 267 reversed a proposed budget move that would have reduced the Hospital Provider Fee by $264 million in an effort to balance the budget. The fee is assessed on hospital bed stays to force a match of larger federal health care dollars. With the federal match, hospitals in Colorado would have lost about $528 million.
The Republican sponsors of the bill were particularly upset that the governor didn’t sign the measure at a rural hospital because it took a leap of faith for them to push the bill through the split legislature. The issue of restructuring the Hospital Provider Fee was a nonstarter for years for most Republicans.
But some GOP members found themselves evolving on the issue because of the rural component. It was still thorny, however, as several Republican lawmakers believe the move violates the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights by moving revenue out from under its constitutionally mandated spending cap.
Hickenlooper chose to sign Senate Bill 267 at Fowler High School. While it is in a rural area, in a town of about 1,200 people, and the legislation also benefits schools, the two Republican sponsors of the bill thought the governor should have signed the bill at a hospital in an area such as Hugo in Lincoln County, which was repeatedly highlighted during the Hospital Provider Fee debate.
When the governor signed the bill on May 30, several other lawmakers showed up to the event, including House Democratic Leader Becker, Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham of Canon City, and Sen. Larry Crowder, a Republican from Alamosa, who was one of the first Republicans to rally around the bill, stating his support in previous years.
When it comes to signing ceremonies, the governor’s office is often overwhelmed by requests from lawmakers who want legislation signed at specific locations. It can be difficult to accommodate schedules.
“I’m sorry they feel slighted on this one, but there was no slight intended from the governor’s office,” Kurt Morrison, Hickenlooper’s director of legislative affairs, responded to concerns earlier this month “It was scheduled around as many schedules as there could be and unfortunately with every bill signing ceremony, we’re hardly ever able to accommodate the wishes of all sponsors and the governor’s schedule.”
In addition to KC Becker, Crowder is also expected to attend the ceremony in Hugo on Friday. Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, a physician, and representatives of the hospital community are also expected to attend. Grantham was invited, though he is not confirmed to attend, as was Rep. Kimmi Lewis, R-Las Animas.
“This event… is an opportunity to highlight the incredible impact this bill will have on Colorado hospitals as well as a chance to thank the sponsors,” read an advisory from the Colorado Hospital Association.