Highlights of the Week
This week Representative Richard Champion was sworn in to represent HD 38, a southern metro district that includes Littleton. Former Representative Susan Beckman resigned in January. Representative Champion previously served as Mayor of Columbine Valley and is the founder of a small oil and gas company. He will sit on the House Finance Committee as well as the House Health & Insurance Committee.
SB20-093, Consumer and Employee Resolution Dispute Fairness, was laid over several times in the Senate this week on Second Reading. Bill sponsors Senator Mike Foot and Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg continue to work on amendments before running SB20-093 on second reading. The bill proposes changes to arbitration proceedings for employment and consumer agreements and standard form contracts. This is the first bill to be slowed down by the Senate Floor this legislative session.
On Tuesday in the House Energy & Environment Committee, two bills were heard and one advanced. The first bill, HB20-1143 Environmental Justice and Projects Increase Environmental Fines increases the maximum fines for air and water quality violations and passed on a party line vote to the Finance Committee. Currently fines for air quality violations are $15,000 per day and water quality violations are $10,000 per day. The bill increases the maximum daily fine to $47,357 and adjusts the fines to increase annually by inflation. This would align Colorado’s statute with federal maximum fines for air and water quality violations. In addition to increasing fines, the bill would direct some of the fine revenue for environmental cleanup projects in communities that were affected by the pollutants to the air and water quality. An Environmental Justice Advisory Board created under the bill would recommend environmental mitigation projects for funding. The bill sponsors, Representative Dominique Jackson and Representative Serena Gonzales Gutierrez discussed several recent air quality violations in Denver as one of the reasons for bringing the bill. Many environmental advocacy groups testified in support of the bill during the hearing. HB20-1143 is scheduled for the House Finance Committee on Thursday, February 27. The second bill, HB20-1025 comes from the Tax Expenditure Evaluation Interim Committee and is sponsored by Representative Adrienne Benavidez and Representative Marc Snyder. The bill, Sales Tax Exemption Industrial Manufacturing Energy Use, was laid over after the witness testimony phase of the hearing. It proposes to require the use of a meter to claim a sales tax exemption on the purchase of electricity when the electricity is used in manufacturing, processing, mining, and other industrial uses. Taxpayers are not currently required to use a meter and instead estimate the amount of energy used in direct manufacturing or processing. Industry representatives from manufacturing companies, chambers of commerce, and business associations testified in opposition to the bill, raising concerns over the cost of putting meters on separate machines to measure the amount of energy used in manufacturing. The bill is now scheduled for a committee vote on Monday, February 24 in the House Energy & Environment Committee.
SB20-109, Short Term Rentals Property Tax, was postponed indefinitely in the Senate Finance Committee this week at the request of the bill’s sponsor. The bill proposed classifying short-term rental properties—defined as properties rented more than 30 days per year on a short-term basis—as commercial property rather than residential property for the purposes of property tax assessment. Senator Bob Gardner indicated that he introduced the bill to start a conversation about how to treat the taxation of short-term rental properties after his county assessor brought the issue to him. Colorado’s commercial assessment rate at 29% is much higher than the residential assessment rate of 7.15%, translating to a steep tax increase for current owners of homes used as short term rentals. County commissioners from mountain communities where vacation rentals are popular testified in support of and in opposition to SB20-109, and the Assessor from Summit County indicated that his county’s position was “nuanced”. Several short-term rental hosts testified against the bill, sharing what their tax burden would be under SB20-109 and pointing out that short-term rentals are not as profitable as they are often portrayed. In his closing comments at the Finance Committee hearing Senator Bob Gardner called for stakeholders to engage and work toward compromise on this issue. While SB20-109 isn’t moving forward, conversations over this issue are sure to continue.
Vaccination issues are back under the Gold Dome. Several anti-vaccination bills died in committees this week. On Monday, SB20-084 failed in the Senate State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee. SB20-084 would have prohibited an employer from requiring that employees are vaccinated and from taking any negative action against an employee for their immunization status. The bill would have primarily affected health care facilities which are required to have a certain percentage of their employees receive the flu shot every year. Several bills that contained broad parental rights provisions including HB20-1144, Parent’s Bill of Rights, and HB20-1063 Fundamental Family Rights in Colorado, also failed in the House State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee this week. A bill that more directly affects immunization requirements, HB20-1239 Consumer Protections Concerning Vaccinations is set for a hearing in the House, Health & Insurance Committee on Wednesday, February 26. It is sponsored by Representative Dave Williams. The bill would place requirements on health care providers and facilities to provide certain information related to vaccines to patients and report any adverse effects. In addition, it requires parental consent to administer vaccines to minors and prohibits providers, facilities, insurers, and schools from treating people who do not vaccinate differently than those who receive vaccinations. Last year a bill to standardize the process for seeking a non-medical exemption from school immunization requirements failed to make it through the legislature. This week a similar bill was introduced. SB20-163, School Entry Immunization, has bipartisan sponsorship from Senator Julie Gonzales, Senator Kevin Priola, and Representative Kyle Mullica. The bill would require a standard form and submission process for individuals seeking an exemption from immunization requirements for religious or personal reasons, require annual evaluations of state immunization practices, and create a goal for every school to have an immunization rate of 95%. The bill is scheduled for its first hearing in the Senate Health & Human Services Committee on Wednesday, February 19.
Several pharmaceutical price transparency bills moved forward in committee hearings this week. SB20-107 would require the manufacturers of the most expensive prescription drugs purchased by state agencies to disclose certain cost information on the prescription drugs. The goal is to determine what components such as research and development, marketing, clinical trials, etc. has a large impact on the price of a prescription drug. The bill’s sponsor Senator Ginal brought several amendments to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday, where SB20-107 was on the agenda for amendments and a vote only. Amendments passed in Committee added a sunset to the bill in 2025, added language to ensure that propriety information is not made public and consolidated the lists of the most expensive drugs subject to the reporting requirements. The bill passed the Health and Human Services Committee on a party line vote and is headed to Senate Appropriations. HB20-1160 is also sponsored by Senator Ginal in the Senate. House sponsors Representative Dominique Jackson and Representative Dylan Roberts presented HB 20-1160, Drug Price Transparency Insurance Premium Reductions in the House Health and Insurance Committee this week. The bill places a variety of reporting requirements on insurers, manufacturers, and pharmacy benefit managers. The bill was amended to bolster protections for proprietary information. This passed the Health and Insurance Committee on a 7-3 vote. In 2019, the General Assembly passed a bill to create a program to import prescription drugs from Canada. The program requires federal approval. SB20-119, which proposes to expand the importation program to allow importation from countries other than Canada, passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on a 3-2 vote.
This week the Joint Budget Committee voted to start drafting a bill concept for a new higher education funding formula. The formula was developed and agreed upon by leadership of all of the state’s public higher education institutions. The proposed model contains two steps, one designed to provide flexibility to adapt for unforeseen circumstances, and another to provide funding based on the institution’s performance over time. The first step allows the General Assembly to address base funding issues or any issues related to changes in population. The second step would allocate funding according to an institution’s change in performance over 4 years in a variety of performance categories including resident enrollment, credential production, Pell, underrepresented minorities, retention rates, and graduation rates. JBC staff was supportive of the model that was agreed to by the higher education institutions.
More than 250 citizen led ballot measures have been submitted and are working their way through the process to make it on the November 2020 ballot. Initiative #122, Limits on Local Housing Growth, is one of several that have already been approved to gather signatures. The measure proposes a 1% annual growth limit on housing stock in 11 Front Range counties. One of the proponents, Daniel Hayes, has introduced similar housing growth limit proposals in the past. The proponents of the ballot initiative have to gather and submit 124,632 valid signatures to the Secretary of State by June 5, 2020.