There were few Kumbaya moments in the Colorado legislature this session. In fact, the unstable mixture of the first Republican-controlled Senate in a decade, a Democratic House majority and a Democratic governor, led to some high-profile problems.
For instance, legislators were unable to come up with a solution for dealing with the expected surplus state tax revenues over the next few years. Without another option, the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights will likely force hundreds of millions of dollars to be returned to taxpayers through various means — which will leave the legislature with less money to devote to priorities, particularly transportation projects.
But it wasn't all gridlock. Notable legislative successes this session included the passage of a felony DUI law, reforms in standardized testing, and a slew of laws aimed at checking police power.
Speaker of the House Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, stated in an email to the Independent that much was achieved despite divisions, from a balanced budget to less-known bills.
"Our bipartisan Colorado Ready to Work package will make real progress on strengthening the economic security of middle-class Colorado families," she wrote.
Below is a far-from-exhaustive snapshot of bills that passed, bills that failed, and bills that never stood a chance. Keep in mind that some of those that passed could actually still be vetoed by Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Democrats introduced a package of three bills this session that were aimed at creating more affordable housing. None passed.
The Colorado Springs and El Paso County Affordable Housing Needs Assessment, completed in October, found that 24,513 more affordable housing units are needed to meet the current demand of people earning up to 120 percent of the area median income. The situation appears to be even worse in Denver, with newly reelected Mayor Michael Hancock calling the creation of affordable housing one of his top priorities. A January market report from the real estate website Zillow found that the city's median rent had soared 10.2 percent in a year.
HB1384 would have used money from the state's unclaimed property trust fund to provide rent assistance to low-income households and promote more affordable housing. HB1383 would have extended the state's low-income housing tax credit. HB1385 would have created a voluntary program for builders of condominiums meant to ensure quality construction.
Republicans had their own idea for more affordable housing, which received bipartisan backing before ultimately flopping. SB177, known as the construction defects bill, would have made it more difficult to sue builders of defective condos. It's thought fewer condos are being built because of fears of such suits.
Meanwhile, Democrat-sponsored HB1259, which would have allowed limited collection of rainwater off rooftops (for watering gardens, for instance), died due to concerns about water rights.
The session wasn't kind to bills addressing the rights of women and minorities — whether those bills proposed to expand rights or reduce them.
Bills that sought to ban conversion therapy for LGBT people and make it easier for transgender people to get a new birth certificate reflecting their gender identity both died. But so did bills that sought to allow people to discriminate based on their religious beliefs, and one that would have banned transgender people from locker rooms that aligned with their gender identity. So did a bill that would have required higher learning institutions to provide benefits to religious clubs, even if they discriminated.
Women saw a similar pattern. SB285 proved a failed attempt to require that a woman seeking an abortion sign a statement saying she has been provided with access to an ultrasound photo and other information about her fetus. So did SB268, which would have made a zygote a person in the Colorado criminal code.
On the other end, a bid to continue offering free and low-cost long-term contraception to low-income young women failed. It would have cost the state $5 million ("Barrier method," News, May 6), but was a proven program that had reduced abortions and teen pregnancy.
Homeless people also lost in the session. The failed HB1264, known as the "Colorado Right to Rest Act," would have banned local laws that crack down on homeless activities like sleeping in parks.
Workers facing discrimination scored a victory when an attempt to repeal the Job Protection and Civil Rights Enforcement Act of 2013, which offers compensation to victims of workplace discrimination, was shot down. But those seeking equal pay, notably women, didn't fare as well. An attempt to continue the Colorado Pay Equity Commission, and require it to monitor the status of pay inequity in the state, was defeated.
Education and kids
Education was the biggest issue of the session, resulting in around 120 bills. There was a lack of partisanship on issues related to standardized testing, though some legislators wanted fewer standardized tests than others. Hickenlooper, an advocate of testing, also played into the debate by publicly saying he wouldn't support certain changes.
Eventually, the legislature did pass HB1323, which is expected to earn Hickenlooper's signature (see Noted).
"The instruction time we'll return to the classroom will have a noticeable effect on our ability to deliver individualized instruction to students," Kerrie Dallman, president of the state's largest teachers' union, the Colorado Education Association, stated in a press release.
Legislators turned down bills that would have expanded full-day kindergarten programs and preschool programs, and several others aimed at increasing education spending, but did allow a modest increase in K-12 school funding.
What students eat also became an issue. A bill to allow more money for student lunches was signed by the governor, but another failed that would have provided five days of school lunches to poor children in four-day-a-week schools. An attempt to stop expansion of the Breakfast After the Bell program, which gives free breakfasts to kids in schools with high poverty rates, also failed despite objections from districts that the program was too expensive.
HB1165 created tension by calling for a subcommittee to review and approve any American Indian mascots used by schools. It failed.
The legislature put a major focus on safety at both the K-12 and college level, and several bills passed. Chief among them was SB213, called the "Claire Davis Act" in tribute to the teenager killed by a classmate in 2013 at Arapahoe High School. The bill allows school districts and charter schools to be held financially liable if they fail to exercise "reasonable care" in protecting students, staff and faculty from foreseeable violent acts that result in death or serious injury.
Some others have been signed by Hickenlooper, including HB1032, which allows kids age 15 and older to seek help from a mental health professional without the consent of a parent. SB242 provides funding to counties to hire additional child welfare staff. HB1220, among other requirements, orders higher learning institutions to partner with a medical facility to provide sexual assault exams.
SB20, yet to be signed, provides schools with more training in awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse and assault.
Meanwhile, Republicans shot down two attempts to require background checks for adults working in youth sports. Another bill, which would have removed regulations for small day-care providers, also failed.
Many nixed bills also aimed at making college more affordable by: increasing consumer protections on student loans, capping interest rates on student loans, capping tuition increases at higher learning institutions, and increasing the amount of state income tax deductions for College Invest for middle-class families.
Another series of bills was aimed at offering in-state college tuition to certain groups. Bills to make such an offer to unaccompanied homeless youth and American Indians from tribes with historical ties to Colorado failed, but the governor signed bills making the same offer to veterans and dependents of military members who have gone to school in Colorado.
Restoring trust in the police was a major issue for lawmakers. In the wake of high-profile police shootings nationwide, the legislature passed a package of laws that are awaiting the governor's signature. The bills:
• require the government to track law enforcement interactions from arrests to parole, and to include demographic data;
• provide grants for police body cameras;
• improve police officer training;
• require greater transparency in police officer-involved shootings;
• require state or local law enforcement to tell the district attorney's office when a police officer lies in any affidavits, testimony or internal investigations;
• order that after a police officer-involved shooting occurs, the law enforcement agency must report certain information to the Division of Criminal Justice, including demographic information on the officer and the person shot;
• and protect the rights of citizens to film the police.
Notably, HB1288, which would have expanded the anti-profiling law to include color, national origin, nationality, language, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and disability, failed to win approval. So did HB1291, which would have banned cops from using chokeholds, except in extreme situations. Another hot-button bill, HB1115, which was aimed at preventing drones from taking pictures of people who have an expectation of privacy (with law enforcement agencies excluded from the ban), also failed after lengthy debate.
On a different note, the legislature did pass HB1057, which will make it more difficult to petition citizen initiatives onto the ballot. The bill requires initiatives to include a fiscal impact statement — an analysis of how much the initiative would cost taxpayers should it pass.
Business and jobs
Perhaps the biggest success on the jobs front was the passage of eight of 10 bills in a workforce development package.
The eight that passed are aimed at creating workforce development programs and internships; increasing the workforce readiness of students; making it easier for students to enter careers that need workers, like health care; helping people enter tech careers; and assisting the unemployed. The two bills that did not pass would have created tax credits for employers that help repay their employees' student loans and increased unemployment benefits for those in training programs.
Other notable failures were SCR003 and HB1300, which respectively would have let voters decide to raise the state minimum wage, and would have let local communities raise the minimum wage. HB1346 would have required international companies to pay state taxes on some of their profits held in foreign tax havens, which could have brought in as much as $150 million annually for the education budget; Republicans argued it would drive those companies out of the state.
SB275 met a similar fate. It was supposed to protect people who brought confidential information to legislators, but business groups said such a law would endanger their privacy and business interests.
Another interesting failure was SB274, which attempted to remove the sales and use tax from soda. A law was passed in 2010 taxing the sugary drinks, but the bill stated, among other things, that "It represents unwarranted government intrusion into personal choices by punishing consumers who choose to purchase soft drinks."
Among the winners was HB1348, which will allow county governments and special districts more say in urban renewal projects. Cities have long been able to unilaterally approve the projects within their boundaries, even though the financing deals could deprive counties and school districts of their tax dollars for up to 25 years. Some city officials across the state have said that HB1348 will make it harder to redevelop blighted areas.
Also passed was HB1390, which raises the finance rates allowable on consumer loans. The bill increases the allowable finance rate from $1,000 to 36 percent annually on loans of $3,000 or less, and from a maximum of $3,000 to 21 percent annually on loans of between $3,000 and $5,000. The finance rate on loans of more than $5,000 is set at up to 15 percent.
The governor may veto two bills aimed at red-light cameras, both of which passed the legislature.
HB1098 would ban the cameras, which are used by police to dole out tickets, while SB276 would require voter approval for the cameras. In a letter to Senate President Bill Cadman and Speaker of the House Hullinghorst, Hickenlooper said he'd be open to restrictions on the use of the cameras and the funds they produce, but that he feels they are an important safety measure.
"Speeding and disregard for traffic signals are among the most prevalent hazards on public roads," he wrote.
There's less gridlock on HB1043, better known as the felony DUI bill, which is expected to be signed by an enthusiastic Hickenlooper. It allows Class 4 felony charges for some repeat offenders charged with Driving Under the Influence and other related charges. In general, the felony charges kick in after three prior convictions, though in certain cases only two prior convictions would be necessary.
The governor signed SB58, to address problems with eyewitness identification, which has been shown to be unreliable. State law enforcement agencies will be required to adopt procedures for such IDs to make them more credible. Also signed was SB30, which protects human trafficking victims charged with prostitution, allows human trafficking to be used as an affirmative defense in court for prostitution charges, and gives trafficking victims a route to remove past prostitution convictions from their records.
HB1305, which bans the manufacture of homemade hash oil, is likely to earn the governor's signature. The legislature also voted to increase penalties for possessing sexually exploitative material depicting kids, from a Class 6 to a Class 5 felony; to make it more difficult to send a parolee back to prison for a "technical violation," and to offer short jail terms as an alternative penalty; and to allow the Department of Corrections to transfer some young prisoners to the youthful offender system. The governor has signed the last of the three.
Among the failures, HB1061 would have prohibited the sealing of records for domestic violence convictions. Interestingly, the bill was sponsored by Republicans. Not surprisingly, Republicans also lost their bid to roll back gun control legislation enacted by Democrats.