With state Democrats in charge of the 2013 legislative session, Republicans were left to bemoan everything from gun control measures and immigration reforms to the passage of civil unions and regulations on marijuana. In a recent meeting, conservative Commissioner Amy Lathen summed up her feelings about the session by calling it "the worst of all of them."
Given the strong feelings — and attempted recalls of four legislators, including Senate President John Morse (see p. 14) — it's little wonder that many less sensational, but still important, bills haven't gotten much press. Heck, most people probably don't even know that the Legislature just made adultery legal (House Bill 1166).
OK, maybe that's not the best example.
But the 2013 Legislature did pass hundreds of bills that went on to be signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, including those that will impact your daily life, your job and your safety. Lathen herself might look fondly on some of them.
Here are a few:
Your home life
Health care: The state will offer Medicaid dental coverage to adults (Senate Bill 242), extend the Family and Medical Leave Act to civil-union partners (HB 1222), and eliminate the waiting period to enroll in the Child Health Plan Plus (SB 008), a low-cost state health insurance plan for uninsured children and pregnant women who don't qualify for Medicaid.
But easily the most important health-related bill this session was the expansion of Medicaid (SB 200), which changes the eligibility level for Medicaid from 100 percent to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, starting in January 2014. The expansion is a part of a federal overhaul of health care that states can opt into. Increased federal subsidies, along with hospital provider fees, will pay for the expansion.
Pam McManus, president and CEO of Peak Vista Community Health Centers, tells the Independent via e-mail that it "will offer health coverage to over 30,000 residents of the Pikes Peak Region who currently have no health insurance and are struggling to access quality primary health care."
Morse says greater access to preventive care could reduce health costs in the state, while improving outcomes.
"Realistically, we have a lot of poor people," he says. "They get sick. It's not right to have them suffer and die just because they're poor."
Many Republicans, however, including Minority Leader Rep. Mark Waller, are less fond of the legislation. Waller, who calls the expansion of Medicaid "the most important piece of legislation we saw in this whole session," said the move was too expensive. He notes that there's no "taking back" the legislation, but that federal funding will began to taper after three years, shifting costs to the state. He says he'd rather put more money into higher education.
"Government can't be all things to all people," he says.
Divorce: HB 1058 will help judges decide who pays what to whom. In an effort to create greater standardization in alimony payments, the new law gives judges a very detailed guide to appropriate payments, based largely on the length of the marriage.
The family pet: Inspired largely by the police shooting of a dog in Commerce City, the Dog Protection Act (SB 1226) requires police to take an online class in dog behavior and learn nonlethal methods for subduing dogs. Gretchen Pressley, spokesperson for Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, says her organization is eager to help any officers who want hands-on training.
The boss: As promised, the Legislature took several bold moves on the jobs front this session. Perhaps most innocuously from a political standpoint, HB 1046 made it illegal for an employer to require an employee to turn over usernames and passwords to private accounts. Yes, this includes Facebook.
Meanwhile, SB 018 limits an employer's right to discriminate against a job applicant — or "adversely affect" an employee or applicant — based on their credit score. Exceptions exist for banks; for other employers who are legally required to review a credit report; and those employers who provide jobs for which a credit report directly relates.
Waller takes exception to the legislation. "I think it's important for employers to be able to have all the tools at their disposal for deciding who to hire and who not to hire," he says.
Government jobs: Waller is also not a fan of the Keep Jobs in Colorado Act (HB 1292), saying he believes it will benefit unions and that it wasn't supported by some large business groups. But many will likely agree with the bill, which mandates that all state and local government contracts must be performed by at least 80 percent Colorado workers, unless it can be shown that not enough workers exist in the state to do the job. The bill gives no specific preference to unions.
Protecting young and old: Colorado had been one of only three states not to require certain professionals to report elder abuse. No more, as SB 111 mandates you report such abuse if you are a health professional or employee, clergy member, police officer, firefighter, court-appointed caretaker, community-centered board member, bank employee or in a related position.
There are also new mandatory reporting laws for child abuse for those in sports organizations (SB 012) and for emergency medical providers (SB 220).
"So many of our children are abused in other settings like athletics," says Trudy Strewler Hodges, executive director of CASA of the Pikes Peak Region, which helps abused children. "... [Abusers] go out of the way, especially pedophiles, to find organizations where they have access."
Rape victims: Another new law provides greater protections for rape victims who give birth to their rapist's child (SB 227). The new law makes it easier to terminate the parental rights of the rapist, and offers other protections.
Drugs: Created by the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, SB 250 was years in the making and involved input and compromise among a wide variety of politicians, stakeholders and experts. While very detailed, the gist of the law is to give low-level drug offenders who aren't deemed a danger to the community a chance to avoid prison and a felony conviction. Treatment programs are offered instead.
Both Morse and Waller (who both serve on the CCJJ) are fans of the law, each saying it's "smart on crime."
In the courts: Those who enter into a plea agreement for a misdemeanor charge now have the right to an attorney, including having one provided if they cannot afford one. Morse notes that the law (HB 1210) could be especially useful to people who may not understand the implications of pleading guilty to a crime — for instance, a woman wrongly accused of domestic abuse who simply wants to get home to her kids.
"Once you sign this thing you're going to have a domestic violence conviction, which has ramifications," he says. "Like, you can't buy a gun, for one."