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Joey BunchJoey BunchOctober 12, 20175min898
Here’s something I bet you haven’t heard anywhere else: The Colorado House and Senate each could flip next year. OK, maybe you’ve heard half that. The Republicans hold just a one-seat edge in the 35-member Senate, which will see 17 seats on the ballot next year. But the House? Democrats enjoy a nine-seat majority in […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchMay 10, 20175min501

The Colorado legislative session was supposed to be all about funding transportation, but lawmakers spoke more about inroads and progress Wednesday as they adjourned the 120-day General Assembly.

Roads got a fraction of what lawmakers said they hoped to raise in January. Two bills would have allowed voters to decide on raising billions of dollars for projects such as unclogging traffic on interstates 25 and 70. Both died in the Republican-led Senate. Both had strong Republican support, but not enough.

The bills would have raised about $700 million annually, but the deal-breaker proved to be whether taxpayers should be asked to put more than they already do in the state’s $26.8 billion budget. Instead lawmakers reclassified a fee on hospital beds that will raise about $100 million a year. That money, however, would be allocated annually, and Colorado lawmakers have a history of neglecting transportation promises.

“I think we could have done better,” said Rep. Kimmi Lewis, R-Kim, lamenting money spent elsewhere in the budget that could have supported transportation and rural hospitals.

The freshman legislator said that next year she would be more aggressive against spending increases. Lewis supported the omnibus Senate Bill 267 because her district has five rural hospitals, and the bill includes $528 million to stave off cuts to hospitals across the state.

“I’m going to vote for it today, and that kills me,” Lewis said.

Lawmakers tinkered with hundreds of other bills, including a long-sought informed-consent law that applies before homeowners associations can sue builders for construction defects. None were as bright or bold as the failed transportation bills, however.

Charter school funding turned out to be a winner on the last day of the session when the legislature agreed on sharing future property tax increases equally with charter schools. After years of gridlock in the Capitol, charter school advocates called House Bill 1375 a breakthrough.

“Slowly but surely, based on what we’ve done with a couple of key education votes, we’ re changing our paradigm about how education and learning opportunities for children should be defined and delivered,” said Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument. “That’s a huge win, because that can transform students’ lives, than can transform how we deliver education, so we can bring education kicking and shouting into the 21st century.”

Lundeen hopes to maintain momentum on the subject with the bipartisan bill he sponsored. House Bill 1340 created a 10-member legislative committee to study school finance.

“We’re going to look at and define what it means to fund every student in Colorado with the respect that individual student deserves,” Lundeen said.

Senate Education Committee chairman Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, co-sponsored both bills along with other efforts to benefit charter schools this session.

“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.

Rep. Tony Exum Sr., D-Colorado Springs, said he was disappointed lawmakers can’t do more to address traffic north of Monument, but he was happy with his big legislative win to provide firefighters with a voluntary cancer fund they could pay into.

A career firefighter, Exum said he knew colleagues who died from complications of cancer waiting on insurers, who demand elaborate proof that the illness is work-related.

“We are out there putting our lives on the line trying to protect communities,” he said of the carcinogens fire crews face in burning buildings. “This is a byproduct of that. It’s a voluntary program to try to get some funds, because firefighters have died waiting on worker;s comp.”



Joey BunchJoey BunchMay 5, 20173min581

Rep. Tony Exum Sr. knows too well the cancer risks a firefighter takes in the flames and fumes, as well as the financial devastation a cancer diagnosis can take.

He worked for nearly 36 years as a Colorado Springs firefighter. Exum watched watched fellow first-responders wither away under a state law passed in 2007 that lumped firefighters’ cancer insurance in with their workers’ compensation policy.

Long delays in proving a cancer was the result of work meant people died and their families were often left in financial ruin, Exum said.

“This is a very important piece of legislation to help reduce the time it takes to get needed help for firefighters all over the state,” he told a House committee last month.

That made Senate Bill 214 pretty personal for Exum. And as did as a firefighter, he likely helped save some lives by getting the bill to the governor’s desk Thursday.

The new law creates a voluntary health trust fund firefighters can voluntarily pay into for benefits with they’re sick and help their families if they die up to $225,000 and up to $25,000 for vocational rehabilitation or cosmetic needs resulting from cancer.

The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, and introduced in the Senate by Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, and Sen. Jim Smallwood, R-Parker.

The coverage also could lower rates for workers’ compensation insurance for other firefighters, Pettersen said.

The bill passed both chambers unanimously.

Exum and Pettersen also are co-sponsoring House Bill 1278 to extend the Local Firefighter Safety and Diseases Prevention Fund, a grant fund that helps local governments and volunteer fire departments pay for equipment and training to promote safety and reduce occupational illnesses.

The program was created in 2014 and was set to expire this year. The bill would extend it three more years. The grants are paid for from the state tax on insurance premiums.

The bill is scheduled to be debated on the House floor Friday, and then must pass a second vote on Monday to get to the Senate to be voted in at least one committee then two votes on the Senate floor before the legislature adjourns on Wednesday by midnight.


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John TomasicJohn TomasicNovember 9, 20167min45

At the end of a long election season that delivered shocks at every stage, including a dramatic upset win for Donald Trump at the top of the Republican ticket, voters in Colorado shuffled some of the players at the state Capitol but didn’t change the game. The next legislative session will see Democrats control the House and Republicans control the Senate, same as the last legislative session. From the Denver Westin where state Democrats gathered on election night, it didn’t at first look like things would turn out this way. They were energized when Rachel Zenzinger took an early lead that never faltered over Arvada Republican incumbent Laura Woods in swing Senate District 19. The match up had been the most closely watched on most legislative lists, a target of spending by state and national political groups.


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Colorado PoliticsColorado PoliticsNovember 9, 201631min430

DENVER - Can you spell T-R-U-M-P? Good morning. Feeling the post-election night hangover? Us too. And we all know it's one hangover that takes zero adult beverages to produce. Pop an Aspirin, look in the mirror and smile or frown — take your pick — but recognize that the country has chosen a very different path for the next four years. But it appears you, Colorado, have chosen to keep things essentially the same. For the winners circle, victory is such a nice remedy for the hangover isn't it? Gov. John Hickenlooper can gaze into that mirror this a.m. and breathe a sigh of relief for the outlook of the remainder of his term. It's a bittersweet morning for Colorado's governor — a letdown that any presumed Washington opportunities are out the window, but certainly a reassurance that a likely divided Legislature in 2017-2018 will keep his popularity — and legacy — above the 50 percent mark. The Senate appears to be headed for continued GOP control, though only 84 percent of District 25 has reported so forgive us for reading the tea leaves a bit.