2015 Colorado Legislative Session

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It's been more than a month since Colorado lawmakers wrapped up their annual legislative session at the state capitol, but the work is far from over. Many of the bills that failed this year will likely be back next year, and some long-standing issues may already be poised to go before voters in 2016.

"I've worked on issues that have taken a couple of years to get through," said Representative Don Coram (R-Montrose).

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The deadline for bills that passed during the state's legislative session to become law or get vetoed was Friday. Measures are either signed by the Governor or become law without his signature. Some proposals have large signing ceremonies, while others are done quietly. Bente Birkeland talks to state capitol reporters about some of the measures.
 

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Colorado’s state legislature wrapped up its work on Wednesday. Lawmakers covered a host of topics during their four months under gold dome. It was also the first session since Republicans re-gained controlled of the state senate. Bente Birkeland talks to reporters about the session as part of our capitol conversation series.
 

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

State lawmakers waited until the last minute to decide some of the biggest issues hanging over the capitol for the 2015 legislative session. They worked overtime to get everything wrapped up before a midnight deadline Wednesday night.
 

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A bill to raise the salaries of state lawmakers and other elected officials quietly made its way through the state house in the final days of the legislative session. It passed on the last day of the session clearing the House with the minimum number of required votes. It had virtually no debate in either chamber.

“People in my district, whenever I tell them how much we make as lawmakers up here, are astounded. They are kind of appalled,” said Senator Kevin Grantham (R-Canon City). He voted for the measure in the Senate where it passed with a wider margin.

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Colorado will soon have a felony DUI law on the books.  On the final day of the legislative session, the Senate passed House Bill 1043 [.pdf] to create a felony DUI for habitual drunk driving offenders. It passed the Senate 34-1.

The debate over continuing the Office of Consumer Counsel won't be decided until the final day of the state's annual legislative session. The Office represents taxpayers when utility and telecom companies go to the state to ask for rate hikes. Without Senate Bill 271 [.pdf], the Office of Consumer Counsel would sunset and go away altogether.

Determining the scope of the office's role though has been contentious.

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The state's annual legislative session adjourns on Wednesday May 6th.  The last few days are hectic as state lawmakers try to push through final bills.  Other bills fail on the calendar or die in committee. 

Peter Marcus of the Durango Herald and Ivan Moreno with the Associated Press sit down with statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland to discuss what's left to do and what measures are dead.

 Peter Marcus of the Durango Herald on reproductive rights legislation:

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A measure to eliminate immunity for public schools for school shootings, death, sexual assaults and other series injuries that happen to students on school grounds cleared the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday. It passed on a vote of 10-3.

Currently public schools are not liable. Legislative leaders in both parties are sponsoring the change, spurred in part by the death of Claire Davis in 2013. Davis attended Arapahoe High School in Littleton when a fellow student shot and killed her before turning the gun on himself.

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Colorado’s Southwest Chief commission met Friday, just days after $1.5 million in funding amendments were stripped from the House’s state budget proposal and another funding bill was put on indefinite hold. 

The commission is tasked with finding money for the route, including needed repairs to the tracks and for possibly adding a stop in Pueblo. 
 

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Colorado’s Senate president introduced a fetal homicide bill this week. As written, it would define a person as an unborn human being from conception until birth for the purposes of homicide and assault cases. It’s expected to draw vigorous debate at the statehouse.

Senate Bill 268 [.pdf] would allow prosecutors to file a murder charge if an unborn baby is killed or dies during an assault or murder of the mother.

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UPDATE 04/15/15 - The House passed the bill; it's expected to fail in the Senate.

ORIGINAL POST 04/14/15: Democrats in the House unexpectedly delayed a vote on an American Indian mascot bill after they realized Republicans had enough votes to kill it.  

Steve Wilson / Flickr - Creative Commons

    

UPDATE 04/14/15: The Joint Budget Committee, charged with negotiating the differences between the House and Senate budget proposals, stripped this funding amendment from the budget. The eventual budget plan will still need approval from both chambers.

ORIGINAL POST 04/09/15: Lawmakers in the House initially passed the state's annual budget yesterday. After hours of debate, the chamber decided to set aside money to help preserve a passenger train that runs through southeastern Colorado. Bente Birkeland has more from the state capitol.

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A bi-partisan measure aimed at reducing the number of tests Colorado public school students take is in limbo at the state legislature. The sponsors delayed the first hearing and don’t know when it will be rescheduled – if at all.

On average, students in Colorado classrooms take more than two-dozen assessments before they graduate, and in some cases up to four times a year according to the Colorado Education Association.  Critics say it actually means less time for overall learning.

D. Utterback

Colorado’s latest revenue forecast was a mixed bag for lawmakers, showing a healthy economy and more money for the state budget. But there’s also a lot of uncertainty moving forward. Bente Birkeland sat down with Ivan Moreno of the Associated Press and Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal to discuss the implications of more state revenue.
 

Here are excerpts from the interview:

What it means for the state budget:

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As they prepare to write the annual budget, there's mixed news for Colorado lawmakers. The latest revenue forecast shows the economy will remain strong, but there is a lot of uncertainty going forward, especially when it comes to low oil prices and how it ripples through the state's economy.

Trying to get more information on the health impact of oil and gas drilling is a topic that lawmakers will soon be taking up at the statehouse. It comes after the Governor's Oil and Gas Task Force finished their work and issued several health related recommendations.

"I get a little bit concerned and annoyed when people try to use health as the basis of what they don't like about oil and gas," said Dr. Larry Wolk the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.

He said he understands the concern, but worries the state doesn't have enough hard data.

D. Utterback

Governor John Hickenlooper recently sat down with reporters to discuss how the legislative session is going so far. Lawmakers are just past the midpoint of the four-month long session.

Which bills are being delayed?

How is the Governor handling split legislative control?

Here are a couple highlights from the conversation:

Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press

A bill to expand a teen pregnancy prevention program for low-income youth failed in the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday on a party line 3-2 vote. Republicans defeated the measure, one that was sponsored by one of their own.

"I guess this is my big thing is let's take an inventory of what we're doing before we throw another layer on there," said Senate Finance Committee chair Tim Neville (R-Littleton).

Two Republican religious freedom bills drew strong opposition from gay rights groups, civil liberties organizations and members of the business community Monday. The first bill, known as House Bill 1171 [.pdf], would have forbade government officials from constraining the exercise of religion had it not been struck down in committee.

The second bill, House Bill 1161 [.pdf], would have protected people from facing penalties for refusing to violate their beliefs and was also defeated.

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State lawmakers are officially at the halfway point of the 2015 legislative session. What needs to be done before the end of the session? Lawmakers will need to pass a balanced budget, and along the way grapple with some hot-button issues such as school testing requirements and police reforms.

"Most of the big work is ahead of us, what happens for the first half is kind of getting ready for it," said Senate President Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs).

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State lawmakers are midway through the annual legislative session. Bente Birkeland talked with Ivan Moreno with the Associated Press and Charles Ashby with the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel to discuss police reform bills and workforce development measures that will get a lot of attention in the coming weeks.

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The sponsor of a proposal to put guardrails around the use of drones for non- government purposes asked lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee to delay a vote on the bill on Tuesday.

“I would work with members of the committee to make sure it truly protects the privacy of people in the state,” said Representative Polly Lawrence (R-Roxborough Park).

After nearly two hours of testimony that focused on emerging technologies and a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy, many lawmakers said still they had questions about the bill.

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A bill to try and reduce teen pregnancies and provide state funding for intrauterine devices or IUDs passed its first test at the capitol. House Bill 1194 would provide $5 million for clinics across the state that offer reversible long-term contraceptives to low-income women and teenagers. Colorado has been running the program with a private grant.

A bill in Colorado’s Senate that seeks funding to help preserve Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route passed out of committee today on a 5-2 vote. 

This comes on the heels of a report from the state’s Southwest Chief Commission that says the original expected $40 million share to help save the long distance route has been knocked down to 8.91 million, due in part to a federal transportation grant and negotiations with BNSF Railway, the company that owns the tracks. 

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In this week's Capitol Conversation, Bente Birkeland takes a look at the policy debates ahead. She talked to Kristen Wyatt with the Associated Press and John Frank with the Denver Post about what they’ll be covering and some issues that do and don’t fall along party lines.

A debate on drones does not fall along party lines and will get a hearing in the Senate Tuesday.

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Colorado’s 2015 legislative session has been marked by a host of interesting and controversial issues, rather than one or two topics dominating debates. Bente Birkeland checks in with other statehouse reporters as part of our weekly capitol conversation series.
 

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A measure that would require cities and counties to compensate mineral owners who aren’t able to develop oil and gas because of local regulations cleared its first committee at the statehouse on Thursday. Bente Birkeland has more:
 

D. Utterback

Democratic lawmakers in Colorado recently introduced a measure to allow terminally ill patients to take medication to end their lives. The patients must be given a prognosis from two different physicians giving them less than six months to live.

Why do supporters say it’s the compassionate choice?

Who strongly opposes it?

Bente Birkeland discusses the proposal with statehouse reporters.

Some key points from the conversation:

Precautions in Place

Ivan Moreno with the Associated Press

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A bill to allow terminally ill patients to take their own lives was introduced at the state capitol Tuesday. Supporters say they want to give patients an option to die with dignity.
 

House Bill 1135 [.pdf] would let people who have less than six months to live take a prescription to die. 

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