CBA Weekly Media Summary

Each Friday, the CBA brings you our weekly media summary of what is happening in the Colorado Legislature. Questions, comments, concerns? Email us at socialmedia@cobar.org.

Week of April 17-21

The fifteenth week of the 71st General Assembly continued with lawmakers attempting to address controversial issues such as teen sexting, businesses and religious freedom, rights of the homeless and a bill requiring candidates to release their tax returns to be allowed on the ballot.

 

Several other controversial pieces of legislation - either introduced or revisited - were singled out this week by journalist. Some media outlets devoting less than a handful of stories to the topic.  A full session schedule can be found HERE.

 

·        Legislation allowing businesses to refuse service over beliefs dies in Colorado Senate

·        Republican-pushed "right to disagree" bill dies in Colorado Senate

·        Legislature debates whether businesses must offer retirement-savings program

·        Hunting, fishing fee increases in Colorado

·        Could we (please) cut Colorado’s 120-day legislative session to 90 or 60?

·        Controversial Plan to Kill Bears and Mountain Lions

 

Before moving to discuss legislative debate at the Capitol, there was some coverage of the first days of Justice Neil Gorsuch after being confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Colorado native was sworn-in as the second justice from Colorado to sit on the high court this month.

 

 

Justice Neil Gorsuch

 

Justice Neil Gorsuch dived into the public side of his new job Monday, piping up early and often as he took his seat on the Supreme Court bench for the first time to hear arguments.

 

As noted by the Gazette, the new justice waited just 11 minutes before asking questions in the first of three cases the court heard Monday, its first session since President Donald Trump's pick was sworn in one week earlier.

 

The session started with Chief Justice John Roberts welcoming Gorsuch and wishing him “a long and happy career in our common calling.” Gorsuch responded – according to the Associated Press - briefly to thank Roberts for the “warm welcome.”

 

 

Justice Neil Gorsuch’s first week on the Supreme Court bench featured an important case about the separation of church and state that has its roots on a Midwestern church playground. The outcome could make it easier to use state money to pay for private, religious schooling in many states.

 

The justices on Wednesday heard a Missouri church’s challenge to its exclusion from a state program that provides money to use ground-up tires to cushion playgrounds. As reported in the Denver Post, Missouri is among roughly three dozen states with constitutions that explicitly prohibit using public money to aid a religious institution, an even higher wall separating government and religion than the U.S. Constitution erects.

 

 

Colorado Budget

 

According to several news outlets, the state Capitol erupted Tuesday morning into a loud and sometimes profane blame game over the state budget, a bill to ask voters to pony up more in sales taxes for transportation and the measure that would free up millions for hospitals, rural roads and rural schools.

 

Budget talks have been hard – despite Sen. Grantham’s best efforts according to ColoradoPolitics.com – to separate transportation funding talks from restructuring the Hospital Provider Fee, which would free money for roads, schools and hospitals, especially in rural parts of the state. So, it made sense that the two issues were discussed in tandem on Thursday.

 

There we were, eyes blurry from an already long week in the legislature, most of us sleep deprived, some of us sitting on a couch in Grantham’s office, others sitting on chairs, as Grantham lamented over the uphill battle ahead for transportation funding.

 

Colorado lawmakers missed a deadline to approve the $26.8 billion state budget and still have not introduced an all-important bill to pay for schools starting July 1.

 

The gridlock – as it was described by the Denver Post - is jeopardizing two other bipartisan priorities: the much-touted ballot measure seeking a tax hike to expand highways and a bill to ease spending cuts that threaten to shutter rural hospitals.

 

The clock is ticking with the session expected to adjourn on May 10th.

 

The House Democratic leader dismissed concerns about gridlock. Duran said she wants to see progress on the Senate bill to reclassify the hospital provider fee — and avoid cuts to hospitals before the budget bill is finished.

 

 

 

 

 

Read more from this week’s press surrounding the debate over Colorado’s budget:

 

·        Legislative session erupts into shouts and accusations over negotiations on major bills

·        Legislature erupts into shouts and accusations over negotiations on major bills

·        Showdown over state budget raises possibility of a special session

·        How Could Federal Budget Changes Affect Colorado's State Budget?

·        Showdown over state budget raises possibility of a special session

·        EDITORIAL:  Some simple steps to avoid a Washington-style budget showdown in Colorado

·        OPINION:  Funding Colorado’s priorities starts with fixing the budget process

 

 

Hospital Provider Fee

 

Enter Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Sterling Republican who has led Hospital Provider Fee talks for his caucus. Sonnenberg – as has been the case for a handful of other Republicans – has evolved on the issue of restructuring the fee, but with the caveat of lowering the state’s spending cap so that taxpayer refunds can be triggered faster. It’s also become a rural issue for some Republicans, where hospitals might close and schools are struggling.

 

What started as a bipartisan effort to break a three-year stalemate on the Hospital Provider Fee has morphed into partisan attacks from both sides over an unwillingness to compromise, according to ColoradoPolitics.com. At the beginning of the session in January, legislative leaders in both chambers from both sides of the aisle made the two issues a priority.

 

Senate Bill 267 started with lowering the base by $670 million. Republicans on Wednesday instead offered to lower it by $335 million in an effort to appease Democrats.

 

Republicans have demanded lowering the overall base of state tax revenue in an effort to more quickly trigger taxpayer rebates. But Democrats say the fee never built up the TABOR base, arguing that Republicans want to lower it just for austerity.

 

Critics of lowering the base say had the fee been structured correctly in the first place, the spending cap would be where it is now, so there’s no reason to reduce it.

 

Another sticking point in the conversation is entitlement spending. Republicans insist that any money that is freed by restructuring the fee should not go to programs like Medicaid.

 

Democrats thought they offered Republicans a concession this year by agreeing to a 20-year bonding program. The legislation would direct $1.2 billion towards state roads and highways and at least $150 million would be used for capital construction.

 

 

Transportation

 

A bargain at the Capitol to seek a tax hike and generate $3.5 billion to improve Colorado’s roadways appeared to collapse just days from the end of the session.

 

Likewise, a separate bipartisan bill to eliminate cuts in payments to hospitals and funnel more money to struggling rural Colorado moved to life support as talks for a compromise faltered, according to the Denver Post.

 

The twin setbacks, prompted by ideological gridlock in the divided General Assembly, are a major blow to the governor and legislative leaders who made the issues the top priorities this term.

 

News of the seeming breakdown in talks around the transportation-funding effort considered one of the top two business priorities of this legislative session comes just one day after the more jubilant bipartisan group of legislators announced a breakthrough agreement on the other top subject: construction-defects litigation reform.

 

That bill also seemed to be on life support about three weeks ago before opposing sides agreed to a compromise, but the obstacles that stand in front of the transportation-funding bill appear more daunting.

 

Grantham, R-Cañon City, told the Denver Business Journal that, despite constant conversations, he has not been able to get any of the three Republicans on the five-member Senate Finance Committee to support the bill.

 

The biggest issue – as noted in media reports - is that those three GOP senators — Tim Neville of Littleton, Owen Hill of Colorado Springs and Jack Tate of Centennial — oppose the idea of raising taxes to increase transportation funding without significant cuts to existing state spending that they could redirect to roads and transit, and none believes there is a difference between sending a tax-hike measure to voters and supporting that measure.

 

Read more from this week’s press surrounding the debate over transportation funding:

 

·        Prospects fading for tax increase to fund Colorado transportation solution

·        Transportation bill needs more work, says voice of Colorado truckers

·        For what it’s worth, Caldara says he’s going forward on transportation initiative

·        Caldara ‘Fix Our Damn Roads’ initiative free of new Amendment 71 hurdles

·        EDITORIAL:  A dead end for Colorado transportation measure?

 

 

Construction Defects

 

After four years of failed negotiations, business leaders and Democratic Colorado legislators finally have reached an agreement to move forward a bill that will reform construction-defects law with the aim of jump-starting what is largely a non-existent condominium construction market.

 

The compromise as reported by the Denver Business Journal, will allow members of the Legislature to get behind a bill that will require the approval of a majority of condominium owners before any legal action can be filed against builders.

 

The bill – as with all construction defect measures – aims at spurring housing development by relaxing concerns from developers over expensive lawsuits. Hickenlooper said the victory is almost psychological for homebuilders.

 

“We’re going to see a lot of developers say this may not be perfect, but now I’m going to do it, and as more developers do that, I think we will see a wave of new development,” Governor John Hickenlooper told ColoradoPolitics.com.

 

The conversation had to balance the concerns of homeowners who demanded a right to go to trial in the event of shoddy construction. Those homeowners and associations have come around.

 

A day after a construction defects reform bill passed a House committee to great celebration by public officials, another bill aiming to boost condominium construction in Colorado met its death Thursday.

 

Senate Bill 156, which would require binding arbitration rather than litigation in a construction defects dispute, passed the Senate last month but was laid over in the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs committee until after the legislative session ends on May 10. That means – as reported by the Denver Post - the bill is due to die on the calendar.

 

Read more from this week’s press surrounding the debate over the Construction Defects Bill:

 

·        Colorado House lawmakers: Deal on bill proponents say will spur condominium housing

·        Construction defects measure in Colorado passes critical legislative committee vote

·        Colorado legislators, business groups agree to pass construction-defects reform

·        Lawmakers, stakeholders say persistence, high stakes led to breakthrough on construction defects bill

·        Breakthrough reached as business coalition, mayors throw support behind bipartisan construction defects bill

·        State lawmakers hope more affordable condos are in Colorado’s future with deal on defects legislation

 

 

Recreational Marijuana

 

As marijuana enthusiasts gathered in Denver’s Civic Center on Thursday, praying for rain to hold during 420 festivities, lawmakers across the park rejected an effort to ban cannabis use in churches.

 

The legislature on Thursday – according to ColoradoPolitics.com - also approved adding post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.

 

Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, pushed a last-minute amendment as a bill that addressed open and public consumption was being considered for a final time in the House. Some lawmakers suggested that Pabon had hijacked the broader bill for an unrelated issue.

 

An amended Senate Bill 17, which would add post-traumatic stress disorder to Colorado’s list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, passed a second reading Thursday in the state House.

 

“On this auspicious day, we’ve got a serious bill,” bill co-sponsor Sen. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, said, with a nod to the 4/20 marijuana holiday. “We know that there is no medical cure for post-traumatic stress disorder. Therapy, medication, exercise, diet — there’s no silver bullet. We also know in the state of Colorado, we have one of the highest suicide rates in the nation.”

 

According to The Cannabis, Military veterans often have served as the primary faces of this bill and past efforts to add PTSD as a qualifying condition. On Thursday, the topic of children took center stage.

 

Also, this week, a bill designed to resolve a high-stakes standoff over taxing authority between Colorado counties and cities when it comes to recreational marijuana passed out of the legislature Monday.

 

But the measure as noted by the Denver Post, if signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper next month, may not stop a protracted legal battle between Adams County and three of its cities from winding up at the state’s high court.

 

House Bill 1203, sponsored by Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, authorizes counties to levy and collect sales tax on recreational marijuana, addressing headlong a December ruling by the Colorado Court of Appeals that said Adams County had no power to do so. Under Lebsock’s measure, counties in Colorado would be able to impose a pot tax in unincorporated areas without challenge but would have to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with cities and towns to tax weed there.

 

Read more from this week’s press surrounding the debate over marijuana legislation:

 

·        Colorado House rejects effort to ban cannabis use in churches; approves PTSD

·        Colorado House rejects ban on cannabis use in churches, OKs medical marijuana for PTSD

·        Colorado Senate OKs legislation expanding workers comp to cover PTSD

·        Dispute over marijuana taxing authority in Colorado may continue — despite state bill designed to defuse it

·        Hemp water gives state lawmakers headaches

·        Bill awaiting governor's signature would allow Colo. counties to levy special sales tax on pot

 

 

Homelessness

 

State House Democrats joined Republicans late Wednesday night to vote down a bill that has made waves in various versions the last three years for championing the civil rights of the state’s homeless population.

 

After nearly six hours of testimony, the “Right to Rest Act,” House Bill 1314, sponsored by state Democratic Reps. Joe Salazar from Thornton and Jovan Melton from Aurora, fell short in the House Local Government committee. The 8-5 vote came around midnight, Democrats Paul Rosenthal from Denver and Matt Gray from Broomfield joining Republicans in opposition.

 

The bill – as reported by the Colorado Statesman - comes in response to the growing trend on the part of city leaders around the state to pass local laws — like Denver’s “camping ban” — that address homelessness primarily as a public safety issue.

 

The final eight-to-five vote that rejected the bill came despite many hours of passionate testimony by experts, lawyers, advocates and persons experiencing homelessness who wanted to see the bill move to the House floor.

 

Multiple people experiencing homelessness described, in teary detail, how they had lost stable housing and now find their situation more traumatizing because they are being harassed or ticketed by police officers for violating local ordinances, according to the Westword.

 

Camping bans, especially Denver's, came under the most fire.

 

 

Education

 

A bipartisan attempt to reform how Colorado schools discipline their youngest students died Monday, even after the bill’s sponsors offered amendments to placate rural school leaders who opposed the legislation.

 

The Republican-controlled State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted 3-2 along party lines to kill House Bill 1210, according to Chalk Beat.

 

Two Republicans who voted against the measure said they felt the bill stripped away crucial tools teachers and principals need to manage their classroom.

 

The original bill would have curbed out-of-school suspensions and expulsions for students in kindergarten through second grade, as well as preschoolers in state-funded programs. It would have permitted out-of-school suspensions only if a child endangers others on school grounds, represents a safety threat or if school staff have exhausted all other options.

 

In general, suspensions would have been limited to three days. Expulsions would be prohibited under the bill except as allowed under federal law when kids bring guns to schools.

 

Last year, Colorado schools suspended students in grades below the third grade more than 7,000 times. Boys, especially black and Latino boys, were overrepresented in that group.

 

Read more from this week’s press surrounding the debate over Colorado education:

 

·        Can Colorado’s kids compete in the modern economy? New bill would prioritize overhaul of state’s education system

·        Why a key piece of legislation to fund Colorado schools is on hold

·        Colorado bill advances to test for lead in water at public schools

·        Vote on Colorado education plan erupts into war of words over which kids benefit

·        Arts education would be a baton that measures schools under Merrifield’s bill

 

 

No Tax Returns – No Ballot

 

Democrats on Monday advanced a measure that would require presidential candidates to disclose complete income tax returns in the wake of President Trump’s refusal to do so.

 

House Bill 1328 passed the House Finance Committee on a party-line 7-5 vote. The legislation faces an uphill battle in the divided legislature.

 

The bill would require candidates for president and vice president to disclose federal income tax returns for the last five tax years at least 90 days before the general election to qualify for the ballot. Returns would be posted on the secretary of state’s website.

 

At least 26 other states have introduced similar legislation this year, after Trump became the first major party presidential candidate in more than 40 years not to release his returns. But it’s not clear if such an effort would be upheld in court, according to the Denver Post.

 

National legal experts have opined on both sides of the issue in recent weeks as similar efforts have proliferated. So if nothing else, Staiert said, lawmakers should expect the measure to be challenged in court if it became law.

 

Read more from this week’s press surrounding the debate over forcing presidential candidates to release their tax returns:

 

·        No tax returns? No name on ballot…

·        Colorado bill could force one change in any future Trump campaign

·        Colorado bill advances that would require presidential candidates to release tax returns

·        Party lines separate lawmakers on bill to require disclosure of presidential candidates’ tax returns

·        Colorado bill advances that would require presidential candidates to release tax returns

 

 

Judicial Round-up

 

During the last week, the Colorado judiciary received significant press because of actions taken. Several lawsuits, opinions and actions could have lasting impacts on our state.

 

·        U.S. Supreme Court to review Missouri case with ties to Douglas County School District

·        Justices: Colorado policy on court fees unconstitutional

·        Colorado Supreme Court upholds state’s DUI laws

·        Attorneys try to convince Colorado governor to commute death sentence

·        Colorado Springs, police agree to pay $212,000 to settle racial profiling lawsuit

·        Denver spent $14.5 million to settle lawsuits against police and sheriff in just 3 years

·        Colorado Springs, police agree to pay $212,000 to settle racial profiling lawsuit

·        Largest Fraud Case in Colorado Pot-Biz History or Legit Investment?

·        A reminder that Republicans can run afoul of tort reform too

·        EDITORIAL: Court should stomp out bigotry of states

 

 

Legislative Round-up

 

Colorado lawmakers either visited or revisited several topics this week that received a moderate amount of media attention. We expect these topics will generate more press in the days to come.

 

Rural Hospital Bill

Republicans walk a tightrope over rural hospital fix

Gorman: Rural Colorado bill seriously lacking in transparency, accountability to taxpayers

Good Question: Which of the state’s rural hospitals are most threatened by proposed $500M budget cuts?

Colorado’s Rural Hospitals Pin Their Funding Hopes On A Bipartisan Budget Fix

 

Colorado Business

Headache relief for Colorado small businesses …

It’s down to the wire — time to turn up volume against ‘anti-business’ bills at Colorado Capitol

Colorado lawmakers try, try again to cut the hated business personal property tax

Colorado Legislature: 3nd-month roundup of action on business issues

Tax, debt and spending bills clear first hurdle with a little help from some Republicans

 

Health Care

Measures could increase — or shrink — health-insurance competition in Colorado

Contraceptives bill allowing a year’s prescription with one pharmacy visit headed to Colorado governor

 

Religious Freedom Bill

In bipartisan vote, state Senate votes down religious freedom-style bill

Legislation allowing businesses to refuse service over beliefs dies in Colorado Senate

Colorado Senate defeats bill allowing business owners to refuse service over beliefs

Senate Republican slams door shut on anti-Shariah legislation

 

Lower Age of Lawmakers

New Era Colorado backs proposal to lower minimum age for state lawmakers from 25 to 21

With rising youth activism in Donald Trump era, Colorado considers lowering age to serve in legislature

 

Illegal Drugs

Navarro: What’s being done about opioid use in Colorado?

 

 

These issues will have a profound impact on the Colorado and many areas of law. The Legislative Policy Team of the Colorado Bar Association is your resource and connection to the State Legislature.  As we work on the issues and bills these coming 6 months we are working to improve Colorado Law and the practice of law.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out should you have a question or comment on a bill, or issue under the dome.