The news this week is dominated by what went wrong in the 2012 legislative session, but I wanted to take an opportunity to highlight some of the many things that went well. It was a productive legislative session on many fronts, my accomplishments were many, and all told, some very good things got done. Here are a few success stories from the legislation I sponsored this year:
SB 104 – Funding for Drug Treatment
- This bill consolidated three different sources of state funding for community-based drug treatment for offenders in the criminal justice system. By consolidating the funds, we simplified the administration and made distribution of the funds more efficient. New data collection requirements will add accountability and drive future evidence-based reforms. SB 104 was lost in the debacle on the House floor Tuesday night, as House leadership sacrificed dozens of bills to prevent SB 2 Civil Unions from being brought up for debate. But the next day, the responsible adults in the Senate resurrected this bill by attaching its provisions to an omnibus criminal proceedings bill, HB 1310.
SB 145 – State Trust Land Revenues for Public Schools
- Initiated by the Joint Budget Committee (JBC), this bill capped the ”sweep” of state trust land revenues at the amount we budgeted for the FY 2011-12 school finance act. This allowed $18.5 million in earnings from state trust lands to be deposited in the “permanent fund,” an inter-generational trust that benefits public schools in our state. This trust is inviolate, which means the principal can never be spent. Interest earnings from the trust are used to support public school funding, and by growing the permanent fund we ensure that interest earnings will grow as well. A little wonkish, perhaps, but a really good thing that hasn’t happened for several years.
SB 149 – Local Government Pension Plan Modifications
- This bill passed in April and should be signed into law in the coming weeks. I sponsored this bill at the request of the Adams County employee pension plan, which is facing some financial challenges. Once this bill is signed, the board of directors will be making some difficult decisions, hopefully in collaboration with affected employees. For more on SB 149, click here.
SB 163 – Study of Drug Sentencing Reforms
- The bill I co-sponsored with Sen. Shawn Mitchell (R-Broomfield) generated a fair amount of controversy. It proposed the reduction of criminal penalties for possessing small quantities of illegal drugs and reinvestment of savings from the prison budget in drug treatment. The bill was amended to punt the issue over to the Commission on Criminal & Juvenile Justice with a directive that they study this issue and incorporate these reforms in a proposal for a new sentencing scheme for drug offenders. This bill also died on the House calendar during the Civil Unions debacle and was rescued the next day by attaching its provisions to HB 1310 (just like SB 104).
SB 168 – Modify Timing of Fund Transfers & Reserve Increases Required When SB 09-228 “Trigger” is Hit
- Another JBC-initiated bill to address technical, complex and necessary changes to a major bill from the 2009 session, SB 09-228. This bill directed increased funding to a “Rainy Day” reserve, transportation and capital construction projects, but it delayed these increases until a “trigger” was reached as determined by certain economic indicators. When the economy has sufficiently recovered, SB 09-228 requires increased savings and increased investment in infrastructure. Current projections call for that trigger to be reached as early as next year. But the timing of the increases and transfers were too soon after the trigger was hit, leaving not enough time to plan and budget. Gov. Hickenlooper asked the JBC to work to fix this, and SB 168 is the result.
HB 1028 – Continue Severance Tax Revenues for Low-Income Energy Assistance Program
- Reauthorizes the use of severance tax revenues for LEAP, Energy Outreach Colorado and weatherization programs for another 5 years. Rep. Cheri Gerou (R-Evergreen) was the House sponsor of this bill.
HB 1089 – Ballot Titles for Referred & Initiated Measures
- Requires state ballot questions to clearly state whether the measure amends the constitution or changes statute, and requires the question on the ballot to be posed as: Yes/For or No/Against. Trying to make this as easy to understand as possible… Rep. Lois Court (D-Denver) was the House sponsor. For more on HB 1089, click here.
HB 1125 – Animal Impound Costs & Procedures
- It took two years of trying, but this year we succeeded with a bill to streamline and standardize the court procedures that occur when animal welfare officers impound an animal due to cruelty or neglect. The Denver Dumb Friends League and other animal shelters requested changes to the current law to expedite the process and make it easier for owners to pay impound costs or for animals to be adopted. This helps local law enforcement, shelters and owners while providing due process that sometimes got lost, especially in jurisdictions that don’t see many of these cases. Rep. Robert Ramirez (R-Westminster) was the House sponsor. For more on HB 1125, click here.
HB 1143 -Increase State Funding to Counties for Election Costs
- The state reimburses County Clerks’ offices for a portion of the cost of including state ballot issues in their elections. The amount per ballot cast depends on the size of the county, and that amount hasn’t increased in many years. HB 1143 increases the amount per ballot cast by $0.10 (ten cents). That costs the state just under a quarter of a million dollars. Clerks love this bill. Rep. Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver) was the House sponsor.
HB 1263 – Reduce Employment Barriers for Persons with Criminal Records
- Recidivism rates in Colorado continue to be a problem. We’re making progress, but many offenders still get caught in the “revolving doors” at the entrance to our prison system. Not being able to find and keep a job after release from incarceration is a major contributor to committing new offenses and going back to prison. This topic is of great interest to me, as I see opportunities to save taxpayers’ money, help people get back on their feet, and promote public safety by reducing repeat offenses. HB 1263 sets out policies for how and when the State of Colorado will use criminal history information to evaluate job applicants for employment with state agencies. It also provides guidance to occupational licensing boards for whether to deny or revoke a license due to a criminal conviction. Helping people get jobs with the State or obtain licenses to practice a trade or profession helps us all. Rep. Claire Levy (D-Boulder) was the House sponsor.
HB 1273 – Expand Child Care Tax Credit to Hospital-Based Facility Schools
- There is an income tax credit given to people who make donations to certain nonprofit child care centers. Last year I worked with Sen. Mike Johnston (D-Denver) and Sen. Evie Hudak (D-Westminster) on legislation to phase-in the restored availability of this tax credit, as it had been suspended for budgetary reasons. This year I carried a bill started by Rep. Dan Pabon (D-Denver) to expand the list of qualified child care centers to include hospital-based facility schools like the Kunsberg School at National Jewish Hospital.
HB 1281 – Pilot Programs for Innovative Reforms to Medicaid Reimbursement
- This is a fairly simple bill to authorize some very complicated pilot programs. It’s a new, collaborative approach to development new payment methodologies for medical providers that serve Medicaid clients. It allows proposals for budget-neutral systems of changing the incentives for how health care is paid for in Colorado. Right now, many Medicaid clients are in “fee-for-service” systems where providers make more money when they provide more services. Pilot programs under this bill could use “global payments” and other innovative ideas to shift towards payments for keeping clients healthy. This will take time to develop and approve, but it marks a shift in how our system is structured and should produce better outcomes and contain costs. Rep. Dave Young (D-Greeley) and Rep. Cheri Gerou (R-Evergreen) teamed up to sponsor the bill in the House, and Sen. Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) helped me in the Senate.
HB 1315 – Funding & Mission of Colorado Energy Office
- Last year I sponsored a JBC bill to change the allocation of revenues from the tax on casino gambling. The bill allowed more of those dollars to reach the general fund, which helped balance the budget, but it also took away the main source of state funding for the Clean Energy Fund in the Governor’s Energy Office. Gov. Hickenlooper asked for that funding to be restored, and HB 1315 was the bipartisan, compromise approach to expanding the mission of the office and giving it two new sources of funding. The Clean & Renewable Energy Fund now receives general fund revenue, and a new Innovative Energy Fund receives severance tax revenue. This latter fund is new and focuses on cleaner and more efficient uses of traditional energy sources as well as new technologies. House sponsor Rep. Jon Becker (R-Ft. Morgan) sought to create a balanced portfolio of energy policy development and incentives, and I was happy to help undo one of the cuts we made last year.
HB 1353 – Mitigate Impacts of Proportional Reductions in Tier 2 Severance Tax Programs
- Another JBC-sponsored bill to fix a technical problem in a complex set of severance tax funding allocation statutes known as “Tier 2.” The bill reallocates $1 million from Tier 1 to Tier 2 (for one year only) and changes the timing and manner of restrictions that are placed on the allocations in years such as this when revenues are projected to fall short of statutory allocations. Another bill with budget wonk written all over it.
HB 1360 – Transfer $4 Million to Economic Development Fund
- The final bill to implement the Fiscal Year 2012-13 balanced budget. The JBC agreed to sponsor this bill during our conference committee on the Long Bill. The funds tranfers in HB 1360 are a compromise approach to a budget priority that was part of the Senate Democratic Caucus jobs agenda and Governor Hickenlooper’s economic development blueprint for Colorado.
Although the above list is long, these are just some of the highlights. A list of all the bills I sponsored this year and their current status can be found here. Governor Hickenlooper has until June 8 to sign or veto bills, and after that date they become law without his signature.