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Legislative roundup: Party time for the Dems

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Colorado’s “blue wave” in the 2018 midterm election left Republicans reeling and Democrats with the most power they’ve had since 1936.

Voters handed the Dems the governor’s office, all state executive offices, and solid control of the House and Senate. Republicans had controlled the state Senate since 2014, and were often favored by voters for offices like attorney general and secretary of state.

The Dems’ win wasn’t just wide, but deep. They now control 19 seats in the Senate to the GOP’s 16, and 41 seats in the House to the GOP’s 24.

The aftermath? In a state often characterized by its bipartisanship, the rift between red and blue is widening at a shocking pace, as Democrats move quickly to pass sweeping legislation that Republicans have little power to stop.

Case in point: The Extreme Risk Protection Orders bill (House Bill 1177), better known as the “red flag bill.” The bill, which passed the House on March 4 and awaits a vote of the full Senate, would give judges the power to remove firearms from a person who “poses a significant risk to self or others,” within two days of a household member or law enforcement officer petitioning the court.



With solid Democratic support, the bill is largely expected to pass in the Senate, absent a wild-card defection. That’s led to an uproar in Republican-majority counties. The El Paso County Board of County Commissioners voted March 12 to become a “Second Amendment Preservation County,” vowing not to “appropriate funds, resources, employees, or agencies to initiate unconstitutional seizures in unincorporated El Paso County.” Around two dozen counties across the state have issued similar resolutions.

War is brewing — on Capitol Hill and social media — over Democrats’ power moves, which run the gamut from efforts to rein in oil and gas to a push to put a question on the ballot asking voters to nix the revenue cap in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. The National Popular Vote bill, recently signed by Gov. Jared Polis, stoked the fire. It will hand the state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the popular election — but only if and after the interstate compact is passed by states representing a majority of Electoral College votes (News, Feb. 6). And then there’s Polis’ push to fund free, full-day kindergarten — a big ask in a state with a lot of needs.

But while some high-profile bills stir up considerable angst and generate headlines, others are easy to miss in the fast-paced state Legislature. Here, we’ll get you up to speed on the bills of the moment, and tell you about some bills you may not have heard of — but should have.
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Energy and environment

The bill you’ve heard about: 
Senate Bill 181
Other than the red flag bill, SB181, or “Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations,” is likely the most divisive bill in the Legislature, largely pitting the urban Front Range against more rural counties that have seen their economies boom with the growing oil and gas industry.

The bill grants local governments broad powers to regulate oil and gas operations within their jurisdiction, including to “zone land use for mineral resource development, to site, monitor, and inspect oil and gas facilities, and to impose fees and fines,” according the bill’s fiscal note.

The state’s Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission would move from “fostering” the oil and gas industry to “regulating” it. The nine-member commission would only be required to have one member from the industry instead of three, and would add members with environmental and health backgrounds. The commission would also need to add new, wide-ranging rules, largely aimed at protecting health and the environment. Fees would also be adjusted to cover costs.



The state’s Air Quality Control Commission would adopt new rules aimed at monitoring and regulating emissions from sites. Operators, meanwhile, would need to continually monitor their emissions.

Opponents say the bill would destroy the state’s oil and gas industry — which paid over $813.7 million in state and local taxes in the last fiscal year and is one of Colorado’s top employers — by leading to drilling bans. That, in turn, would lead to mass layoffs, and less tax money for state priorities like education, they say. Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, probably made the biggest headlines, writing in a Facebook comment about the bill: “My recourse is SECEDE. Boulder and Denver metro are so removed from the working man’s reality.”

Despite the Republican effort to slow the process — and the objections of some prominent Democrats like former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, the bill easily passed the Senate, though Democrats did add amendments aimed at appeasing Republican concerns, among them one that says health and safety regulations must be reasonable and necessary.

Democrats say the bill is needed, and point to the increasing number of drill sites near homes, businesses and schools, along with accidents like the explosion in Firestone in 2017 that killed two and injured a third person when it blew up a home. Regulators don’t currently prioritize health and safety.

Sponsors: Sens. Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder, and Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, and Reps. Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder, and Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder

Status: Passed the Senate, referred to House Finance Committee

The bills you may not have heard about:

House Bill 1113
Known as “Protect Water Quality Adverse Mining Impacts,” this bill might be seen as a good companion to SB181. While 181 regulates the environmental impacts of the oil and gas industry, 1113 seeks to do the same for the mining industry, particularly as it relates to water (2015 Gold King Mine spill, anyone?).

In essence, the bill says that hardrock mines can’t say that water quality can be maintained only through treating water for an indefinite period; they must show that their reclamation plan will lead to an end date for such measures.

What’s more, the bill’s fiscal note states, “Under current law, mining operators are allowed to submit an audited financial statement as proof that the operator has sufficient funds to perform reclamation in lieu of a bond or other financial assurance. The bill eliminates this option and requires that all reclamation bonds include financial assurances in an amount sufficient to protect water resources, including costs for any necessary water quality 
protection, treatment, and monitoring.”

The bill is aimed at ensuring mines pay for their cleanups rather than leaving the task to the state and taxpayers.

Sponsors: Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Eagle, and Sens. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, and Kerry Donovan, D-Vail

Status: Passed the House and Senate
The issue of oil and gas regulations has divided the Legislature and the public. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The issue of oil and gas regulations has divided the Legislature and the public.
Senate Bill 192
The “Front Range Waste Diversion Enterprise,” seeks to decrease how much people on the Front Range throw away.

A new enterprise would collect a user fee on each load of waste disposed of at a Front Range landfill, along with fines for littering, and the money would be used for grants to governments, nonprofits and businesses that conduct waste disposal in order to achieve the following goals: 32 percent waste diversion by 2021, 39 percent by 2026, and 51 percent by 2036.

Sponsors: Sens. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, and Rep. Dominique Jackson, D-Aurora

Status: Introduced in Senate, assigned to Local Government Committee

House Bill 1037
The “Colorado Energy Impact Assistance Act” would allow any electric utility to apply to the Public Utilities Commission for a low-cost Colorado energy impact assistance bond to lower the cost to ratepayers when retiring an electric generating facility (ahem, Drake Power Plant).

Sponsors: Rep. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail

Status:
Passed the House, moved to the Senate

Housing and Economy

The bill you’ve heard about: 
House Bill 1210
Last year, legislation similar to this year’s “Local Minimum Wage” bill would have allowed local governments to set a minimum wage. It passed the Democrat-controlled House but — you guessed it — died in Senate committee. While voters in 2016 chose to raise the state minimum to $12 by 2020, proponents of this bill say that doesn’t go far enough for people in some urban areas and resort towns who face higher living costs.

“One size does not fit all when it comes to addressing the needs of every Coloradan,” Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, said in a statement.

Opponents, including the National Federation of Independent Business, say having a patchwork of minimum-wage laws would burden small businesses.

Sponsors: Reps. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, and Rochelle Galindo, D-Greeley, and Sens. Jessie Danielson, D-Jefferson County, and Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City

Status: Passed House, moved to Senate

The bills you may not have heard about:
Allowing local minimum wage could mean bigger paychecks in expensive areas. - A KATZ / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • a katz / Shutterstock.com
  • Allowing local minimum wage could mean bigger paychecks in expensive areas.
Senate Bill 188
Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, has resurrected the “Family Medical Leave Insurance Program,” a bill she sponsored in the House last year but couldn’t get through the Senate. It would require employers and employees to each pay 0.32 percent of an employee’s annual wages into a state-run insurance program, which would provide partial wages for employees who take up to 12 weeks of family-related or medical leave.

Republicans remain staunchly opposed to the bill on the grounds that it would force people to pay into a fund they might not benefit from. One argument is that the bill is equivalent to a tax increase, and therefore, under TABOR, needs voters’ approval.

Winter touts paid leave as a way to make families stronger.

“Many workers simply can’t afford to choose between a paycheck and caring for a recovering spouse without the risk of being evicted or getting behind on utility bills,” she said in an October statement.

Sponsors: Sens. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Angela Williams, D-Denver, and Reps. Matt Gray, D-Broomfield, and Monica Duran, D-Lakewood

Status: Introduced in Senate, amended and referred to Finance Committee

House Bill 1170
Dubbed the “Healthy Homes Act,” this bill would provide protections for renters that supporters say would mitigate health and safety concerns, and opponents — including the Colorado Apartment Association — argue could lead to rent increases.

Overall, it would shift power from landlords to tenants.

Under the bill, two additional conditions would be added to the list of characteristics that make a residence “uninhabitable” under state law, constituting a breach of the rental agreement: A nonfunctional refrigerator, range or oven; or mold associated with dampness.

Landlords would have to address life, health or safety concerns within 24 hours; and conditions on the “uninhabitable” list within 72 hours. And if the same condition occurred twice in six months, the tenant could break the lease 14 days after giving notice.

“There are a lot of really great landlords out there,” Rep. Dominique Jackson, D-Aurora, says of the bill. “And nobody’s out to harm landlords. But there are a few who take advantage and those are the people that this bill will impact. Not those good landlords.”

Sponsors: Reps. Dominique Jackson, D-Aurora, and Mike Weissman, D-Aurora, and Sens. Angela Williams, D-Denver, and Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village

Status: Passed the House, under 
consideration in the Senate

Crime and courts

Locals protest in 2018. The red flag bill is aimed at preventing gun violence. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Locals protest in 2018. The red flag bill is aimed at preventing gun violence.
The bill you’ve heard about: 
Senate Bill 182
It doesn’t get much more divisive than this one: “Repeal the Death Penalty.” Interestingly, the bill would only prevent convicts from being sentenced to death in the state if they are charged on or after July 1, 2019.

The death penalty doesn’t divide neatly along party lines. In fact, Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, expressed dismay that the bill was moving so quickly. Fields’ son was murdered by two of the three men on Colorado’s death row, and she supports the death penalty.

“When we think about the magnitude of abolishing the death penalty, surely — surely — there should be enough time to ensure a thorough and comprehensive debate,” she told The Colorado Sun.

Sponsors: Sens. Angela Williams, D-Denver, and Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, and Reps. Jeni James Arndt, D-Fort Collins, and Adrienne Benavidez, D-Adams County

Status: Under consideration in 
the Senate

The bills you may not have heard about:
• The bond reform bills: This trio of bills aims to make the criminal justice system fairer for people of little means, particularly those accused of low-level offenses who face job and home loss if they don’t have the money to post bond.

“Our criminal justice system is, as a factual matter, criminalizing poverty,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said during a House committee hearing for two of the bills, as reported in The Colorado Independent. “If you can’t afford to pay bail, if you can’t afford to pay bond, you’re going to sit in jail. And you’re going to sit and sit and sit.”

House Bill 1226
“Bond reform” is just what it sounds like. Among the changes:
Makes “possession of a weapon by a previous offender” and “sex assault crimes” bailable offenses.
Requires judicial districts and the state to create a pretrial screening process and written criteria for release of certain defendants without monetary conditions.

The aim of the bill is to allow defendants to be released, regardless of their ability to pay a bond, if they aren’t considered to be a danger to the community, or a flight risk or a risk for obstructing justice in another fashion.

Sponsors: Reps. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, and Matt Soper, R-Delta, and Sen. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs

Status: Introduced in House and assigned to Judiciary Committee

House Bill 1225
“No Monetary Bail for Certain Low-level Offenses” also seeks to help poorer defendants. The bill’s summary notes, “The bill prohibits a court from imposing a monetary condition of release for a defendant charged with a traffic offense, petty offense, or municipal offense, except for a traffic offense involving death or bodily injury, eluding a police officer, circumventing an interlock device, or a municipal offense with substantially similar elements to a state misdemeanor offense.”

Sponsors: Reps. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, and Matt Soper, R-Delta

Status: Under consideration in the House

Senate Bill 191
“Prompt Pretrial Liberty And Fairness” aims to get people out of jail faster, after they have been granted bond. It states that courts must hold a bond hearing for a defendant within 48 hours of arrest; the defendant must, in most cases, be able to post bond within two hours of the courts notifying the sheriff; the defendant should not pay more than $10 for bond processing and transactional fees; and a defendant should be released within two hours of posting bond. Perhaps most interestingly, it states that if a defendant has been granted bond, and can meet its terms, the court shall release the defendant even if they cannot pay it.

Sponsors: Sens. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, and Vicki 
Marble, R-Fort Collins

Status: Assigned to Senate Judiciary Committee

House Bill 1224
Here’s a mind-blower: Prisons and jails don’t provide inmates with menstrual products. “Free Menstrual Hygiene Products In Custody” would fix that problem, providing women with periods with the hygiene products they need.

The Colorado Independent reports that the bill was inspired by Elisabeth Epps, who requested a tampon while serving 27 days in the Arapahoe County Jail for obstructing a peace officer. She was told the tampon would take up to 10 days to arrive. (If you don’t know why that’s a problem, you may also be interested in House Bill 1032, which is below, under the “Education” header.)

Epps wasn’t shy about speaking out on social media about her ordeal, and legislators heard her.

“This is about dignity. No one should have to beg, plead, borrow, barter, or pay to receive tampons while in confinement. They are vital for thousands of Coloradans sitting in our local jails and should be provided without cost. Period,” Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, said in a statement to The Colorado Independent.

Sponsors: Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, and Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster

Status: Under consideration in the House

House Bill 1155
“Additions To Definition Of Sexual Contact” is graphically straightforward. It says that ejaculating onto someone or “knowingly causing semen, blood, urine, feces, or a bodily substance” to contact a victim for the purposes of arousal, gratification or abuse is sexual contact.

The definition is needed in order to prosecute sex crimes and the bill has earned bipartisan support.

Sponsors: Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, and Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs and Sens. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, and Mike Foote, D-Lafayette

Status: Passed the House and Senate
Tampons: When you need one, you need one. A bill seeks to ensure female - prisoners are provided with them. - TATYANA RATOVA / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Tatyana Ratova / Shutterstock.com
  • Tampons: When you need one, you need one. A bill seeks to ensure femaleprisoners are provided with them.
Senate Bill 49
The “Statute Of Limitation Failure Report Child Abuse” bill is another bipartisan no-brainer. Right now there’s a statute of limitations of 18 months for charging mandatory reporters of child abuse (like teachers, doctors and ministers) who fail to report kids who they suspect are being sexually abused. This increases the period to three years.

Sponsors: Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, and Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City

Status: Passed Senate and House

Senate Bill 100
The revenge porn bill, “Unauthorized Disclosure Of Intimate Images Act,” creates civil remedies. In other words, if your ex posts your nude photos on the internet in an effort to humiliate you, you can sue him/her for the greater of:
economic and noneconomic damages, including distress;
statutory damages of no more than $10,000 against each defendant;
whatever profit the poster made off your images;
punitive damages;
Reasonable attorney fees and costs; and
additional relief, including injunctive relief.

The statute of limitations is four years.

Sponsors: Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, and Rep. Kerry Tipper, D-Lakewood

Status: Passed Senate and House, Senate considering House amendments

House Bill 1092
“Animal Ban for Cruelty to Animals” prohibits a person convicted of felony animal cruelty from owning a pet for three to five years. Juveniles would also be impacted by the ban, “unless the defendant or juvenile’s treatment provider makes a specific recommendation not to impose the ban and the court agrees with the recommendation.”

The bill also allows the court to order someone who commits animal cruelty to complete an anger management or mental health treatment program.

Thus, it involves “not only protecting animals that become the victims of cruelty, but ensuring that we’re doing everything we can to get help for the people who are actually perpetrating those acts of cruelty,” says Rep. Alex Valdez, D-Denver. Valdez points out that those who abuse animals often will go on to hurt humans.

Sponsors: Rep. Alex Valdez, D-Denver, and Sen. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins

Status: Passed House, moved to Senate

Education

The bill you’ve heard about: 
House Bill 1032
Remember the 1991 Salt-N-Peppa hit song, “Let’s Talk About Sex”? It was racy then, and, for many Republicans, who would definitely rather not talk about — you know what — it’s still racy.

But, like it or not, the “Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education” bill is getting talked about at the state Capitol.

Colorado already requires that schools that choose to teach sex ed, teach comprehensive sex ed. This bill adds on the definition of what comprehensive means; makes changes to, and appropriates money ($1 million annually) for, the state’s grant program for schools that want to add comprehensive sexual education; closes a loophole that allowed private contractors to collect government money for teaching abstinence-only classes in public schools; and ends an exemption for charter schools to the requirements.

The bill has nevertheless led to rallies by concerned parents and community members, some of whom erroneously believe the bill would lead to schools showing graphic representations of sex to 9-year-olds, or that teachers would turn their kids gay.

HB1032 prohibits schools that have sex ed courses from teaching “religious ideology or sectarian tenets or doctrines, using shame-based or stigmatizing language or instructional tools, employing gender norms or gender stereotypes, or excluding the relational or sexual experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender individuals.”

Sponsors: Reps. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, and Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, and Sens. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and Don Coram, R-Montrose

Status: Passed House, moved to Senate

The bills you may not have heard about:

Senate Bill 7
Last year, Sen. Faith Winter sponsored a bill in the House that would have addressed sexual misconduct on college campuses, after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded the Barack Obama-era policy that required institutions to investigate any misconduct that came to their attention.

That legislation died last year in Senate committee, but Winter is bringing it back with the “Prevent Sexual Misconduct At Higher Ed Campuses” bill in the Senate.

The bill would require institutions to adopt and publicize sexual misconduct policies subject to a list of minimum requirements. For example, they should make a “good faith effort” to complete investigations of sexual misconduct within 60 to 90 days. And under the bill, schools couldn’t punish someone reporting misconduct for drinking or using drugs.

“I think we’re saying in Colorado right now universities are doing a good job,” Winter told The Denver Post. “We want to continue doing a good job and, given national trends, we need to take a stand as a state and say this is a Colorado-based solution to protect women.”

Sponsors: Sens. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, and Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Reps. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, and Janet Buckner, D-Aurora

Status: Introduced in Senate, assigned to Education Committee

House Bill 1194
This bipartisan bill, “School Discipline For Preschool Through Second Grade,” aims to cut down on suspensions for young children, which supporters say are too common — especially for students with disabilities and students of color — and can impact learning at a vulnerable age.

It specifies that schools can only issue out-of-school suspensions in cases that involve controlled substances or health and safety concerns. Even then, schools could only suspend a child for three days, or long enough to fix the health and safety issue.

Sponsors: Reps. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, and Colin Larson, R-Littleton, and Sens. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, and Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora

Status: Under consideration in House

Cannabis

The bill you’ve heard about: 
House Bill 1028
“Medical Marijuana Condition Autism” would add autism to the list of disabling conditions for which a person — including children under 18, with the recommendation of two physicians — can be prescribed medical marijuana.

Last year, a similar bill passed both chambers of the state Legislature with bipartisan support, but Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed the bill, citing concerns about a lack of medical research and increased marijuana use among teens. At the time, gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis released a statement opposing Hickenlooper’s decision, signaling his support for the bill should it come up again.

1028 passed in the House, albeit with an amendment to specify that the physician diagnosing a child with autism should be a “primary care provider, physician with experience in autism spectrum disorder, or licensed mental health care provider acting within their scope of practice.”

Sponsors: Reps. Edie Hooton, D-Boulder, and Kim Ransom, R-Littleton, and Sens. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder

Status: Passed House, under 
consideration in Senate

The bills you may not have heard about:
Some parents say medical marijuana can help treat autism in children. - JONNY ESSEX / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Jonny Essex / Shutterstock.com
  • Some parents say medical marijuana can help treat autism in children.
House Bill 1230
The “Marijuana Hospitality Establishments” bill reprises and enhances another bill Hickenlooper vetoed last year, which would have authorized “tasting rooms” in medical marijuana centers and retail stores, where customers could sample edible or vaping products.

This year’s version goes further by allowing “retail cannabis hospitality and sales establishments,” where customers could buy, sample and consume cannabis on-site. Licensed establishments would even get an exception to the Clean Air Act that would allow smoking indoors, not just vaping.

All products and samples would have to be either consumed in the designated hospitality space or confiscated.

The bill would also legalize “cannabis hospitality spaces,” where it would be legal to smoke marijuana but not buy or sell it (think hotel lounges, cafés, or book stores where patrons bring their own weed). And it clarifies policy for mobile cannabis tours, where customers get high on shuttles.

Sponsors: Reps. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, and Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, and Sens. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, and Julie Gonzales, D-Denver

Status: Introduced in House, assigned to Business Affairs & Labor Committee

House Bill 1234
Rep. Jonathan Singer’s “Regulated Marijuana Delivery” bill, which he sponsored with Valdez, is just what it sounds like. The bill would establish delivery permits for licensed medical and retail marijuana businesses, to include a full range of products.

Last year, Singer sponsored a similar bill that passed the House with major amendments — despite opposition from the Colorado State Patrol and local law enforcement agencies — but couldn’t get through the Senate.

Hickenlooper was also a vocal opponent of legalizing delivery, which, he argued in a 2017 interview with The Cannabist, could put couriers at risk and give children easier access to marijuana.

But times have changed, Valdez says, and those in the Legislature now have been hearing about the issue long enough that they understand the need for a licensed system for cannabis delivery. Such a system, he points out, would “put a permanent end to the black market where... folks are going on Craigslist and using Craigslist to get cannabis products delivered.”

Sponsors: Reps. Alex Valdez, D-Denver, and Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, and Sens. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, and Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins

Status: Introduced in House, Assigned to Business Affairs & Labor Committee

Bill statuses current as of the morning of March 19.

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