The Colorado Senate honored the family of the late Trooper Cody Donahue Monday after passing the Move Over for Cody Law last session. This year, lawmakers will consider a bill to help sustain insurance for the families of fallen officers.
While law enforcement officers are in mind, Senate Bill 148 also would extend insurance coverage for up to one year for any state employee killed while doing his or her job.
Donahue was working at an accident scene near Castle Rock, when he was hit by a food truck that allegedly had room to move to another lane. Last year lawmakers passed a law that toughened the punishment on those who don’t slow down and move over for first-responders and parked utility vehicles.
Donahue’s widow, Velma Donahue, and daughters Maya and Leila led the Pledge of Allegiance in the Senate Monday.
Afterward, she talked to Colorado Politics about the value of the proposed benefits for future families like hers. Her husband was killed on Nov. 25, 2016, and after Dec. 1, his wife and daughters were uninsured.
“I felt punched in the gut,” she said. “The funeral hadn’t even been completed yet.”
A change in the law is vital, she said, to give grieving families time to get their life back in order after losing the family member who provided their insurance.
“It was devastating,” she said. “I was so scared. I thought. ‘Oh my God, what if something happens before I get this going?’ I didn’t even know what to do.”
The bill will get its first hearing Thursday afternoon before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. It enjoys capable bipartisan sponsorship: Sens. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, and Beth Martinez Humenik, R-Thornton, with Reps. Polly Lawrence, R-Roxborough Park, and Tony Exum Sr., D-Colorado Springs.
Humenik said the state has lost six employees on the job in the last five years, and the issue isn’t about finances as much as compassion for those who serve the citizens and ultimately sacrificing their lives for that service.
“This allows time to take some of the stress off the families, so they don’t have to think about this kind of business, about what to do next with their insurance, This gives them a year to figure that out.”
After leading the pledge Monday, Donahue’s wife and sister, Erin Donahue-Paynter, were lauded for their advocacy, which Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, called a “heroic, honorable and effective” effort to pass the Move Over for Cody Law last year.
Lawrence said of public servants on the roadside: “They’re watching out for us, and it’s important we need to watch out for them.
Another sponsor of the traffic law, Kim Ransom, R-Littleton, said she has become a friend to Velma Donahue; Ransom’s husband also was killed in a traffic accident, she said.
“I think this is a special follow-up for what the Donahues have been through,” Ransom said Monday morning.
The Senate presented the family with a framed display of all five pages of the legislation and the pen the governor used to sign it into law.
The Black Democratic Legislative Caucus of Colorado held its annual opening reception this week. Also celebrated as the Historic Eight, this delegation is made up of six House and two Senate members working collectively to create and track legislation focused on Coloradans of color.
The intimate event took place at the Blair Caldwell African American Research Library in Denver’s historic Five Points neighborhood, rightfully so. Five Points is nostalgically known as the “Harlem of the West,” once serving as the epicenter of Denver’s thriving black business and social scenes.
Legislators, community members and supporters packed the third floor of the library to hear about the concerted effort the BDLC is putting toward policy during this session.
“I know this Black Caucus and, particularly, Janet Buckner, and all of them are actively trying to be sure that our K-12 system is the best it can be for the students they represent,” said Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley.
Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora is also working on legislation aimed at helping Colorado kids get access to reduced copay lunches. The Expand Child Nutrition School Lunch Protection Act would, “allow school districts to increase access to a healthy meal during school hours for 1.4 million more students. Because hunger knows no age.”
Healthcare, housing, business and technology are also among the issues the BDLC are tackling this session.
“These are people who have their ear to the ground…listening to what people are saying and what they need. Because of that, they have special expertise to devise policy that is cost effective and can really make a difference in the community. That benefits everybody in Colorado. ” said Aaron Harber, host of “The Aaron Harber Show.”
Members of the BDLC are Sens. Angela Williams (chair)of Denver and Fields, as well as Reps. James Coleman of Denver, Leslie Herod of Denver, Tony Exum Sr. of Colorado Springs, Janet Buckner of Aurora, Dominique Jackson on Denver and Jovan Melton (vice chair) of Aurora.
As the legislative session started Wednesday you could feel the excitement and anxiety in both chambers. Priorities were laid out for the next 119 days, including working to improve Colorado’s roads, addressing a projected shortfall in state employees’ pension system, expanding rural broadband accessibility, tackling energy, solving the state’s opioid crisis and ensuring men and women who work at the Capitol feel protected and feel heard amid looming allegations of sexual misconduct.
Simultaneously, the Black Democratic Legislative Caucus, known as the “Historic Eight,” the largest number of black legislators to serve in Colorado at once, is also working on policy more specifically aimed at the advancement of people of color. The contingent is prioritizing education, small business creation, housing affordability and the criminal justice system.
“This legislative session will be pivotal to Colorado’s future as we believe what we do in the general assembly will have impacts on this year’s election,” said Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, the vice chairman of the caucus. “It’s important that the issues plaguing African-Americans across our state are not ignored and that our vote is not taken for granted.”
While they make up 8 percent of the legislature, black Coloradans are a mere 4.5 percent of the population, and voter turnout for this demographic has been consistently low in recent elections.
Sen. Angela Williams, D-Denver, who chairs the BDLC, said the group has hired a staff member to aid them in introducing policy and to “keep an eye out for legislation that might appear to be inequitable to our communities of color.”
Specific legislation details are expected to be rolled out in the in the coming days, as lawmakers formally introduce bills.
The BDLC’s annual legislative preview will take place on Jan. 22 on the third floor of the Blair Caldwell African American Research Library in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood.
Besides Melton and Williams. the caucus includes Sens. Rhonda Fields of Aurora and Reps. James Coleman of Denver, Leslie Herod of Denver, Tony Exum Sr. of Colorado Springs, Janet Buckner of Aurora and Dominique Jackson of Denver.
(Editor’s note: This story was corrected to reflect that Jovan Melton is from Aurora.)
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 […]
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.”
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.
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.
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.