I sponsored too many bills this year. I worked myself very hard, and I have a lot to show for it. I sponsored 64 bills, and 61 of them passed. More than half of those were JBC bills. Of the losses, one was a House bill that died in its first committee hearing, so I never saw it. Two of my Senate bills were defeated, although I killed one myself after negotiating to attach it to another bill. The other was my executive pay raise bill. It didn’t fare too well.
This list contains the Eleven Best of 61 bills I passed this year. I had lots to choose from, but these stand out. I hope you like them.
[Click on the Bill # to read the full text of the final bill, or use the Fiscal Note link to read an explanation of how the bill operates and what it will cost to implement. The Fiscal Note is often much more interesting and enlightening to read than the bill!]
1. The Long Bill: SB 230
The Colorado Constitution requires that a balanced budget be passed each year, contained in a single bill, that provides for the funding of the ongoing operation of all three branches of state government. It takes the Joint Budget Committee close to five months to draft the bill, and it takes a week to move the bill through each chamber of the legislature. The JBC forms a conference committee at the end to put it back in balance. This year’s budget spends $20.5 billion on everything from highways and prisons to schools, universities and national guard armories. Approximately $8 billion of that comes from the general fund, the remaining portions being federal funds and cash funds of various types.
The budget for fiscal year 2013-14 makes strong investments in education, human services and economic development. At the request of Gov. Hickenlooper the budget prioritized improvements to our child welfare system and mental health community resources. The senior homestead exemption was fully funded, and support for senior services such as meals on wheels was increased. Services for people with developmental disabilities were expanded and waiting lists were reduced or eliminated. State support for institutions of higher education was increased for the first time in four years. State employees will receive a pay increase for the first time in as many years as well. The list goes on and on – read more here.
The Long Bill is the only bill that doesn’t get a Fiscal Note. It’s way cooler than that; it gets a Narrative.
2. Drug Offense Sentencing Reforms: SB 250
This bill has been years in the making. The Drug Policy Task Force of the Commission on Criminal & Juvenile Justice began talking about a new sentencing grid for drug offenders in 2010, and those talks got serious in 2012 when I introduced SB 12-163 with Sen. Shawn Mitchell. We ended up turning SB 163 into a directive for the CCJJ’s Drug Policy Task Force to study the reforms and report back by the end of the year, and SB 250 is the result. Unanimously recommended to the legislature by CCJJ, the reforms in SB 250 go beyond a new sentencing grid. They continue a transition to a more flexible approach to drug offenses, and one that emphasizes treatment over incarceration for those struggling with addiction. Savings in the prison budget from sentencing reform allows those resources to be re-directed to community-based drug treatment programs. Better outcomes, less recidivism, more cost effective use of taxpayer resources. This is my fourth year sponsoring bills for the Drug Policy Task Force, and Rep. Claire Levy has been my co-sposnor on many of those bills, including this one.
Click Here for the Fiscal Note for SB 250
3. The School Finance Act: SB 260
After three years of cuts to K-12 education through the insertion of a “negative factor” in the school finance formula, SB 260 reverses the trend and begins the process of restoring cuts. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go as the “negative factor” has cut over $1 billion from what should have been spent on public education. A school finance act is passed each year, and SB 260 is the best we’ve seen in a while. On top of fully funding inflation and growth in student enrollment, the bill provides $40 million toward reducing the “negative factor” and a $20 million increase in support for special education services. Sen. Evie Hudak chairs the Senate Education Committee and was my co-sponsor on this bill.
Click Here for the Fiscal Note for SB 260
4. Collateral Consequences: SB 123
I’ve worked on this bill for three years, and I’m very thankful we got it passed this year. Collateral consequences are the things that happen to a person with a criminal history not because of the sentence they received, but because of all the provisions in civil law that pose barriers, limitations and disqualifiations based on conviction of various crimes. There are literally thousands of them throughout the law, and every year the legislature enacts more. SB 123 helps people with criminal records as they reintegrate back into the community or while doing time on probation. One of the reason people commit new crimes while on probation or after being released is because collateral consequence laws make it difficult for people with records to find housing or employment. SB 123 seeks to lessen barriers faced by people with records. It makes modest expansions to record sealing laws, allowing petty offenses and municipal ordinance violations to be sealed after three years with a clean record. It allows judges to waive housing or occupational licensing sanctions when sentencing someone to probation, so they can keep their home or their job. It requires data collection and analysis to examine the impact of criminal history disqualifications for various occupations and professions, which hopefully will lead to more informed decisions by future legislatures when voting on collateral consequences.
Click Here for the Fiscal Note for SB 123
Okay, so this is two bills, but they really work in tandem to make several good things happen. HB 1245 sets up sustainable funding sources for the new Colorado Health Benefits Exchange, which begins operations later this year in preparation for the Jan. 1, 2014 start date for many key provisions of the federal health care reform law, including the individual mandate. The Exchange will receive one-time funds (twice, actually) and authorization for some of the same funding mechanisms used by CoverColorado, which HB 1115 repeals after a phase-out period. Thanks to ObamaCare, the high-risk individuals insured by CoverColorado will no longer be denied coverage in the commercial market due to pre-existing conditions, so the state-subsidized high-risk pool can be phased-out and it’s funding transitioned to the Exchange, which is where many of CoverColorado’s clients will be buying insurance.
CoverColorado had been receiving a monthly distribution of interest earned on the state’s Unclaimed Property Fund. HB 1115 retroactively put a stop to that. A portion of the savings (the retroactive part) is being transferred to the Exchange, and dental benefits for adults in the Medicaid program (SB 242) are being funded through the future savings. There’s still money left over which for now will be used to replenish the reserve account on the Unclaimed Property Fund. Rep. Beth McCann was the House sponsor on both of these bills, and together we devised the plan for how to dovetail the bills and the funding as carefully as possible.
6. Limited Gaming Tax Distributions: SB 133
The Colorado Constitution specifies how portions of the taxes on casino gaming are spent, but a portion is directed to the general fund or to any other fund designated by the General Assembly. Several programs have been so designated. In bad years those programs get reduced, and in good years those dollars get restored. SB 133 increased funding to the tourism promotion fund and other economic development programs, including funding for the arts and film incentives. This distribution formula will likely be changed again in future, but for now a lot of people were happy to see increased support for our tourism industry and other job creating programs. My colleague from the Joint Budget Committee Rep. Cheri Gerou sponsored the bill in the House.
Click Here for the Fiscal Note for SB 133
7. Increasing State Reserves: SB 237
Current law requires the legislature to maintain a 4% reserve in the general fund. This money saved from year to year provides a cushion in our budget and can be accessed when the economy goes in the tank and tax revenues decline. Most people agree that 4% is too small a reserve, and we’ve passed laws that will increase our reserves when certain economic indicators trigger the requirement. SB 237 gets a head start on that process by increasing our reserves to 5% during the current 2012-13 fiscal year. This was one of Governor Hickenlooper’s requested uses of what he considers to be one-time revenues in the budget. It’s a fiscally responsible, prudent move and it will help Colorado weather the next economic downturn. This bill originated in the Joint Budget Committee.
Click Here for the Fiscal Note for SB 237
8. Crimes Against Pregnant Women: HB 1154
This isn’t the first time this bill has been proposed. In 2011, Rep. Mark Waller introduced a very similar bill and I was the Senate sponsor. What appeared to be a carefully crafted compromise quickly fell apart. Despite our bipartisan efforts the bill became impossible to pass in a divided legislature. Like so many other issues, this legislation had to wait until 2013 to pass.
HB 1154 fills a gap in our current criminal code where crimes that result in the loss of a pregnancy sometimes escape justice. The bill creates a comprehensive scheme for all assaults on pregnant women that cause the loss of the pregnancy. The subject matter isn’t pleasant, and the stories of drunk driving accidents (and worse) with tragic endings are hard to endure. But somehow the debate invariably becomes about abortion rights. To avoid that political pitfall HB 1154 carefully defines the criminal acts and makes clear that the woman is the victim of the crime. Colorado voters have twice rejected fetal personhood laws by overwhelming margains, and HB 1154 respects their wishes in its approach to defining and punishing these crimes. Rep. Mike Foote was the House sponsor of the bill, where it passed with strong bipartisan support on a vote of 50 to 14, with House Minority Leader Mark Waller voting Yes. In the Senate the bill passed on a straight party-line vote of 20 to 15.
Click Here for the Fiscal Note for HB 1154
9. Sales Tax on Cigarettes: HB 1144
Once upon a time, cigarettes were exempt from sales tax in Colorado. But a few years ago the exemption was temporarily suspended as a means of generating additional general fund revenue during the recession. That suspension was set to expire on June 30, 2013, meaning cigarettes were scheduled to once again become exempt from sales tax. HB 1144 ends the temporary nature of this tax treatment, making cigarettes permanently subject to state sales tax.
Smokers are paying the sales tax today, and thanks to HB 1144 they’ll still be paying it in July. But because this revenue was supposed to be ending, we didn’t include it in the revenue estimates used to build the fiscal year 2013-14 budget. HB 1144 generates “new” revenue, available for appropriation for new legislation passed this year, which wasn’t otherwise funded through the budget process. HB 1144 made possible lots of important investments in job creation, health care and civil rights.
Had this bill not passed, cigarette taxes in Colorado would have dropped in July. Cigarette taxes should never go down. Health care advocates supported HB 1144 because studies have shown taxes to create barriers that prevent young people from starting to smoke. But smokers won’t notice a difference, because they’re already paying this tax today. In addition to sales tax, other state and federal taxes apply to cigarettes. Because HB 1144 was a revenue raising measure it was required to originate in the House of Representatives where Rep. Daniel Kagan was the sponsor. The two of us sponsored the last temporary suspension bill two years ago, and now we’ll never have to do that again.
Click Here for the Fiscal Note for HB 1144
10. Right to Legal Counsel: HB 1210
And speaking of Rep. Daniel Kagan, he was also the sponsor of this bill to bring Colorado into compliance with a United States Supreme Court ruling about when the right to legal counsel begins for people accused of crimes. We agreed to tackle this problem and use revenue from cigarette sales taxes to pay for the court-appointed lawyers for indigent defendants. The 6th Amendment right to be represented by a lawyer when your liberty is threatened by criminal prosecution is a core part of our Bill of Rights, but Colorado law denied this opportunity in misdemeanor cases. HB 1210 corrects this problem and provides additional resources to the Public Defender’s office.
Click Here for the Fiscal Note for HB 1210
11. Civil Unions: SB 11
Third times a charm. The law took effect on May 1, 2013, and already hundreds of committed couples across Colorado have made the trip to their County Clerk’s office to form a legally recognized civil union. Families are stronger, children are protected, love and commitment are respected and Colorado is a better place than it was a couple of weeks ago. Special thanks to House Speaker Mark Ferrandino for helping me make this happen.
Click Here for the Fiscal Note for SB 11