It’s my annual legislative highlights, now with 15 on the list! Short descriptions with links to the full text and other materials on some of the more notable bills, these are the best and the brightest of my accomplishments this year:
1. HB 1367 – Prop AA Marijuana Tax Refund
Places Proposition BB on the November 2015 ballot for voters to consider whether all of the new marijuana taxes collected in FY 2014-15 should be refunded or kept and spent on school construction, law enforcement, prevention, substance abuse and youth services. TABOR is making us vote twice on marijuana taxes. Please vote YES one more time.
2. HB 1186 – Expand Children with Autism Medicaid Waiver
Eliminates the waiting list for kids on the autism spectrum that qualify for institutional levels of care and allows them to receive Medicaid therapies. Changes the eligibility to ensure three years of services, increasing the impact of the program. New therapies during early childhood make a dramatic difference in kid’s lives.
3. SB 195 – Earned Time Savings Cap Inmate Phone Rates
Serving on the JBC puts you in a unique position to solve problems. An earned time bill I sponsored in 2012 has yielded more savings than anticipated, so much more that we had to cap the amount that is re-directed to education programs for inmates. Then an audit revealed that Dept of Corrections had been profiting from excessive phone rates for collect calls and calling cards and using those profits to subsidize education programs. SB 195 to the rescue! Excess earned time savings allowed us to cap phone rates and replace the subsidy they were providing. Allowing inmates to make affordable phone calls helps them maintain relationships with family and friends, and these positive relationships reduce recidivism by increasing the likelihood of successful transitions back to the community after serving time. It’s all good.
4. SB 247 – Update and Expand HIV Drug Assistance Program
Another opportunity to do something great because of being in the right place at the right time. This bill updates and expands a drug assistance program for low-income people with HIV infection. Back in the day the medications to treat HIV were very expensive and many people lacked health insurance coverage for the “pre-existing condition” of HIV infection. Drug assistance programs were necessary. And they still are, but times have changed. The Affordable Care Act ensures coverage for pre-existing conditions, and the drugs are more affordable and more effective. This bill takes advantage of the opportunity to repurpose existing funding into expanded services and prevention efforts.
5. SB 116 – Needle-Stick Prevention Act
Harm reduction principles continue to make changes to drug paraphernalia laws. If a person with a dirty needle reveals this fact to a police officer prior to a pat-down search they can’t be charged with the paraphernalia offense. Anything else they may have in their pocket is a different matter, but this removes a disincentive to disclose needle-stick hazards, making everyone safer.
6. HB 1344 – CSU Financing for National Western Center
Denver has major plans for the redevelopment of the National Western Stock Show Complex in the Globeville and Elyria neighborhoods on the north side of town. Colorado State University is a key partner in the plans as their veterinary school will build an equine medicine center on the campus and two other university buildings will house agriculture and water research programs. This bill provides the financing for CSU’s participation, which is contingent on all of Denver’s financing plans coming together. With a nod to our past and our Western traditions, this is a big investment in our future.
7. SB 196 – Hemp Seed Certification Program
Amendment 64 also legalized hemp, and it defined the difference between hemp and marijuana. Farmers must register to grow hemp, which contrasts with the strict regulations on licensed marijuana grow operations. But if the seeds the farmers use produce plants that are over the THC limit for hemp, their entire crop is destroyed and they could be in a lot of trouble. Seed certification will supply farmers with seeds they can safely grow and harvest. Hemp is well-suited for Colorado’s climate and may become our next cash crop.
8. SB 240 – Funding Formula for Independent Living Centers
“The General Assembly finds that Independent Living Centers pave the pathways to full participation in professional and community life for all individuals with disabilities.” These non-profit centers help people access services, find employment and live independently in their communities. SB 240 increases their funding and sets up a method of allocating resources to all the various centers across Colorado.
9. HB 1022 – Juvenile Petty Offense Contract
This bill takes aim at the so-called “school to jail pipeline” by creating an alternative to arresting and charging juveniles for minor offenses. Currently, the police can “lecture and release” or they can arrest and charge. HB 1022 offers a way to involve parents and make juveniles acknowledge what they did wrong without deepening their involvement in the criminal justice system. By successfully completing a community service contract and staying in school the juvenile can avoid getting a record. The more we do to keep kids out of the front end of the justice system the less likely that they’ll end up in jail or prison in the future.
10. SB 235 – Secure Funding for School Nutrition Programs
A drafting error in a 2014 bill made this bill necessary. It increases a limit on appropriations for school breakfast and lunch programs because the bill passed last year included appropriations in excess of the then-existing limit (which it failed to adjust). In our annual Long Bill we reduced last year’s funding to the maximum allowed by the limit in statute, and set the funding for the upcoming year at that same level. SB 235 then increases the cap and adds back the funding to make it all whole, as originally intended.
11. SB 241 – Collaborative Management Child Welfare Programs
This JBC bill provided funding while clarifying the accountability for cross-system collaborations that vary by community across Colorado. Counties and judicial districts bring together a wide array of service providers and systems to intervene in cases of child abuse and neglect, truancy, or juvenile delinquency before they escalate and become a problem. Social services, school personnel, law enforcement, juvenile justice and community-based resources all work together to keep kids safe and families intact.
12. HB 1203 – Earned Time Parity for Habitual Offenders Pre-1995
Recommended by the Commission on Criminal & Juvenile Justice, this bill corrects an oversight that was probably intended, but unfair nonetheless. For a period of time between 1985 and 1993, people convicted of being habitual offenders for repeat felony convictions faced harsh sentences and no possibility of earned time for good behavior. After 1993 the sentences were shortened and earned time was again allowed. HB 1203 can’t change the harsh sentences during this time frame, but it does offer earned time and makes that retroactive to when they began their sentence. The bill affects 64 offenders in the Dept of Corrections, the first of whom becomes eligible for parole in a couple of years.
13. SB 166 – School Finance Supplemental Funding
“This bill reduces the negative factor by $14 million” I told the Senate before the unanimous vote in favor of the bill. Local property tax collections came in above projections, allowing us to apply the unexpected revenue to negative factor reduction.
14. SB 100 – Annual Rule Review Bill
One of the few bills that must be passed each year, this bill exercises the legislature’s retained authority to review and disapprove of administrative rules adopted by state agencies. All newly adopted rules are reviewed and must be legislatively extended or else they expire after their first year. SB 100 extends most new rules, but calls out certain defective rules for expiration. And it slaps the hand of the Dept of Human Services for one of their over-reaching rules, which they deserved.
15. SB 278 – Authorize Funding for Restoration of Capitol Building
It sounds a lot sexier than it is. This bill deletes one word (“dome”) from an appropriation made in 2013 to allow the left-over funds from the repair of the Capitol dome to be used to repair cracks in the exterior granite and replace windows. About $1 million is made available through this bill, which gets us started sooner than expected on this latest round of repair work.