Highlights of the Week
This week, the Joint Budget Committee began setting the budget for the larger departments including the Colorado Department of Healthcare Policy and Financing which runs the state’s Medicaid program, K-12 education in the Department of Education, and the state’s behavioral health programs in the Department of Human Services. Under the Dome, there were several late nights in committee debating newly introduced, controversial bills and the legislature finally reached the halfway point of session.
On Friday, Speaker of the House KC Becker shared in a stakeholder meeting that a package of two bipartisan bills to retain state revenues above the cap prescribed in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) will be introduced in the next weeks. The bills will be sponsored by Speaker Becker, Senator Priola, and Senator Court. The policy proposal would ask voters to allow the state to retain revenue above the TABOR cap and spend the TABOR excess equally between K-12 public schools, higher education, and transportation. The existing TABOR cap would be eliminated and the dollars above the cap will be used on public schools, higher education, and transportation. The transportation portion would be allocated through the existing Highway Users Tax Fund formula.
The policy requires two bills - one to refer the ballot question to the voters, and one to describe how the TABOR excess revenue would be allocated should the measure be approved. The ballot question does not change the constitution so the measure would only require a simple majority of votes to pass the legislature and the ballot. The ballot question that would be put to voters in the November 2019 election would read:
“Without raising taxes and to better fund public schools; higher education; and roads, bridges, and transit, within a balanced budget, may the state keep and spend all the revenue it annually collects after June 30, 2018, but is not currently allowed to keep and spend under Colorado law, with an annual independent audit to show how the retained revenues are spent?”
SB19-181, Protect Public Welfare Oil and Gas Operations, was heard in the Senate Transportation Committee late into the night and into early Wednesday morning this week, with hundreds of people coming to testify on the bill. The bill was introduced late last week on Friday evening and heard 4 days later in committee, passed its first committee, was heard and passed Senate Finance on Thursday, and was heard and passed Senate Appropriations on Friday. Some have criticized the fast tracked timeline for the bill and asked for a slowed down process with more stakeholders involved. The primary conflict addressed in this bill, the clash between local governments that want to impose stricter regulations on oil and gas activity and the state regulatory body, has been an issue for several years. SB19-181 would give local governments more control over new drilling within their boundaries. Local governments would have the ability to require larger setback distances from homes, schools, and other occupied structures. Local governments would also have the ability to regulate new siting of oil and gas drilling, to assess fines for leaks and spills, and impose fees to cover permitting costs. Lastly, if there is a conflict between different governing bodies, the jurisdiction with the strictest regulations would supersede the other jurisdiction’s regulations. The bill would remove technical feasibility and cost-effectiveness from factors that must be considered in the regulatory process. In addition to requiring the state regulatory body for oil and gas to consider health and safety first when considering regulations, the number of commissioners on the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission with industry experience would drop from three to one. The bill passed all three committees on a party line vote with Democrats in support and Republicans opposed. A very long and heated debate on the Senate floor is expected next week.
HB19-1190 by Representative Kipp, a first year legislator from Fort Collins, brought back conversations from a 2017 bill that had a provision to distribute additional funds to state authorized charter schools. Charter School Institute (CSI) schools do not have the ability to ask voters for mill levy overrides, which have become an important piece of school financing in recent years. HB17-1375 made changes regarding mill levy distribution to district authorized charter schools and also allowed for additional state funding for CSI schools, which do not have access to mill levy overrides. HB19-1190 sought to repeal the Mill Levy Equalization Fund created by HB19-1375 that allows for additional state funds to be distributed to CSI schools. Educators, students, and parents from CSI schools testified to the value that they bring to their districts. CSI schools often have different models than surrounding schools and serve a different type of student. The bill failed in committee on a 1-12 vote.
Current state law preempts local governments such as counties and cities from setting their own minimum wage. In recent years there has been a push to allow local governments to set their own minimum wage in part to account for these regional differences. This was realized in the introduction of HB 19-1210 regarding minimum wage. Business groups testified against the bill in the House Transportation and Local Government Committee because from their perspective, a patchwork of different minimum wage laws could create a difficult system for small businesses to navigate. The bill was amended in committee to allow local governments to enter into an agreement to establish a minimum wage policy within a county and the incorporated cities in that county. It passed out of committee on a 6-5 vote with one Democrat siding with Republicans to vote no on the bill. On Friday, the bill was debated at length and was amended the dates of changes to local governments’ minimum wage policies to align with the state’s scheduled increase. The bill passed along partisan lines on second reading.
On Friday, the Senate narrowly passed SB19-077 on third reading by a vote of 18-17 with several Democrats voting against the measure. The bill would allow public utilities including investor owned utilities to build infrastructure to support the electrification of the transportation sector.
HB19-1174, Out-of-network Health Care Services, sponsored by Representative Esgar and Representative Catlin passed unanimously out of the Health and Insurance Committee on Wednesday. HB19-1174 seeks to address the problem of balance billing. When a patient receives care from an out of network provider in an in-network facility, they often will receive a bill for the out of network services. In addition to requiring disclosures about out of network care, the bill would set reimbursement rates for providers and hospitals. The bill saw extensive amendments that eased concerns from hospitals. A benchmark rate was changed to 105% of the median in-network carrier’s rate. A mechanism was added to ensure that hospitals do achieve the highest rate of the three benchmark rates. An amendment clarified that any payments made by consumers for the out of network services apply to their in-network deductible.
The Joint Budget Committee began work setting the budget for the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF), Department of Human Services (CDHS), and the Department of Education (CDE). The Joint Budget Committee set provider rates for home and community based services, transportation, maternity services, anesthesia rates, and diabetes test strips. The JBC went above the staff recommendation for anesthesia rates, approving a rate of 120% of Medicare anesthesia rates. A rebalancing of rates for primary care, radiology, physical therapy, and occupational therapy was also approved. The Committee delayed action request to change rates for dental services and for personal care home maker rates. During the figure setting hearing for the Office of Behavioral Health in the Department of Human Services, the JBC approved a bed expansion at the Mental Health Institute at Pueblo to address capacity issues. They also approved the operating portion of a series of request to improve the behavioral health crisis response system to create one record for the crisis response system, create an app, and pilot a co-responder program. Also, the JBC approved a 1% increase for community provider rates. The JBC delayed action on several items during the figures setting for the Department of Education including the $5 million request for the Charter School Institute Mill Levy Equalization and several requests for Education Leadership Council priorities. As recommended by staff, the JBC delayed appropriating the Early Literacy Per Pupil Intervention Funding line item because of a bill by Senator Rankin that has not yet been introduced. The bill to reform the READ Act is expected to be introduced next week and it would address concerns were raised during the briefing process that portions of the READ Act were not showing significant positive effects on literacy rates.
Next Friday, the Joint Budget Committee will be presented the March Quarterly Revenue forecasts from the Office of State Planning and Budgeting and from Legislative Council Staff. The Committee will choose one of these estimates to finalize the budget the following week.
Bills of the Week