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2010 Legislative Roundup: Colorado

2010 was an impressive year for Colorado’s legislature, which passed several hallmark bills that cemented the state’s reputation as a leader in renewable energy and health care reform.  Despite careful cutting and compromising in order to end the year in the black as required by state law, the session was relatively bipartisan overall and ensured that outgoing Gov. Bill Ritter ended his tenure on a high note. 

Tax and Budget:  Even before lawmakers passed the budget (HB 1376), Gov. Ritter had already been through three rounds of budget cutting.  Colorado chose to balance the cuts to state services and programs by reducing or eliminating some of the state’s corporate tax credits and exemptions for a savings of about $100 million (in response to one of the tax-exemption cuts, Amazon.com threw a temper tantrum and announced that it would end its relationship with state affiliates), as well as by giving higher education governing boards more room to raise tuition rates up to 9% for the next five years.  Property tax breaks for seniors were also eliminated for two years, a measure worth $92 million per year, $300 million was cut from K-12 education, and enterprise zone tax credits were limited.  Colorado’s pension plans were also affected by the budget crisis, with Gov. Ritter signing SB 1 into law – the bill limits the amount state employee benefits can increase each year to 2%, mandates workers to pay slightly more into the system, and increases the retirement age.

Green Energy:  It was a big year for Gov. Ritter’s “New Energy Economy” – in a year when renewable energy legislation was stagnating at the federal level, both houses passed 16 bills to promote clean energy within the state.  Highlights include:

  • HB 1001 raises the standard from 20% to 30% for the amount of electricity that large utility companies must derive from renewable sources by 2020.  The new Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is one of the most aggressive renewable-energy goals in the country.
  • HB 1365, The Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, places new standards on coal-fired power requiring Xcel Energy to cut its nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 80% by the end of 2017.  Toward this end, Xcel is converting three of its coal-burning power plants to natural gas, an effort that will involve retiring or retrofitting 900 megawatts of coal-fired capacity.  This is the first legislation of its kind in the country.
  • Under SB 100, counties and municipalities can join together to finance renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects.
  • The Smart Grid Task Force, created by S 180, will study the state’s infrastructure and develop policy recommendations to make the transition to Smart Grid.
  • New special districts can borrow money to fund renewable energy or energy efficiency projects for residents under HB 1328.
  • HB 1333 creates the Green Jobs Colorado Training Pilot Program, a two-year pilot program that expands job training programs by offering grants to community colleges and other training providers to develop programs for jobs in wind, solar, energy efficiency, and other renewable energy industries.
  • HB 1342 allows apartment dwellers and others who can’t utilize solar technology on their own roofs to join together to purchase shared panels in community locations.
  • Colorado state parks must increase the use of solar and other renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies to achieve energy self-sufficiency by 2020 under HB 1349.

Toxins:  HB 1348 requires uranium processing facilities to clean up their toxic mess before expanding operations. 

Urban Sprawl:  Outlining more specific definitions for farmland, HB 1107 makes it more difficult for developers to routinely tap into urban renewal funding to extend urban sprawl.

Water Efficiency:  HB 1358 allows the buyers of new homes to choose water efficient appliances and fixtures up front. Water Smart Homes use 20% less water than traditional new homes on average.

Health Care:  Among other successful health care-related efforts, Colorado made dramatic strides in improving access to health care: 

  • Encouraging health care providers to work in rural and medically underserved areas, HB 1138 creates a Health Care Jobs for Colorado Program, a loan repayment system for those who choose to work in underserved communities.
  • HB 1021 requires insurance carriers to provide coverage for maternity care and contraception.  Group policies cannot exclude coverage on the grounds that pregnancy was a pre-existing condition, while individual policies can only exclude a current pregnancy at the time coverage is obtained.
  • Under HB 1008, insurance carriers are prohibited from charging women more than men solely on the basis of gender.  It also declares any varying of premium rates by gender as unfairly discriminatory.
  • A HB 1166 makes insurance policy details easier to understand, mandating that all auto, dental, long term care, and health insurance policies sold in the state be written at no more than a 10th grade reading level.
  • An All-Payer Claims Database is created under HB 1330, which will make public information regarding safety, quality, cost, and efficiency, increasing transparency within the health care system.
  • HB 1332, the Medical Clean Claims Act, streamlines and standardizes insurance claims, saving time and money.
  • The Medicaid Efficiencies Act helps cut down on fraud and abuse and increases Medicaid’s efficiency, providing health care for more people at a lower cost.
  • HB 1228 will hold agents and insurance companies responsible for every plan they sell, and allows the commissioner of insurance to collect damages from an insurance company when deceptive policies are sold.
  • SB 153 creates a comprehensive approach to behavioral health issues, including mental health and substance use disorders.  Aside from creating a mechanism for the state and stakeholders to address cross department behavioral health concerns, it creates standard elements for behavioral health screening in the criminal justice system and facilitates the transformation of the behavioral health system in Colorado.

Healthy Eating:  Gov. Ritter signed SB 106 into law, which creates a Food Systems Advisory Council for the purpose of supporting a healthy local food economy and better coordinating farm-to-table efforts.

Child Safety:  A bill requiring children younger than 8 to be in booster seats while riding in cars was signed into law.

Corporate Transparency:  Gov. Ritter signed an executive order that would require companies that receive taxpayer funding to report how many jobs were created as well as the average and median annual salaries of jobs.  It also requires a system to be developed in order to track jobs for all moneys paid out to companies from Colorado taxpayers.

Campaign Finance:  Also passed was SB 203, which requires corporations and labor unions that spend at least $1,000 on political expenditures to register as independent expenditure committees.

Pay Equity:  HB 1417 creates a permanent Pay Equity Commission to examine ways of bringing women’s pay more in line with men’s.

Workers’ Rights:

  • SB 28, the innovative Work-Share Program, gives companies the option of cutting all employee salaries instead of laying people off.  The unemployment benefits that would have gone to the laid off workers will kick in for everyone to share on a pro-rated basis.
  • The Legislature passed HB 1409 to eliminate Colorado’s "pay for performance" system for state employees and create uniform, objective criteria for movement through pay grades.  However, the measure was vetoed by the Governor, who instead directed the Department of Personnel and Administration (DPA) to work with unions towards pay progression and a transparent, accountable salary survey process.
  • SB 12 clarifies enforcement language when an insurer wrongfully doesn’t pay workers' compensation claims that are owed to injured workers.
  • HB 1012 creates new requirements that must be met before workers’ compensation insurers are allowed to use materials collected from surveillance of injured workers.  For example, surveillance material must first be reviewed by physicians before being used to deny a claim.  The bill passed the House, but died in the Senate.

Payday Lending:  HB 1351 caps APR interest rates at 45% and mandates that borrowers be given as long as six months to pay back loans.

Child Welfare:  The Child Protection Ombudsman Program (SB 171) was passed into law, which will receive and review complaints regarding the health and well-being of children, investigate and resolve cases, make recommendations for improving the system and creating a statewide grievance policy, and promote best practices.

Drunk Driving:  A bill signed into law by Gov. Ritter requires judges to impose a full sentence of at least 10 days for second-time DUI offenders, and at least 60 days for third-time and subsequent offenders.

Sentencing Reform: Colorado took a good first step toward reforming its drug sentencing laws. HB 1352 differentiates between drug offenders who are addicted from the more serious offenders who distribute, manufacture, and traffic drugs.  As a result, fewer addicts will see prison time and instead have greater access to treatment.  Lawmakers also passed HB 1360, which seeks treatment and other evidence-based measures as intermediate sanctions prior to imprisonment for parolees guilty of technical violations (people who have not committed new crimes, but rather violated conditions of parole).

Education:  In a controversial move that undermines tenure rights, Colorado lawmakers passed a bill that changes the way teachers are evaluated.  Half of teachers’ evaluations will be based on performance, and the other half will be based on students’ growth on standardized tests.  Tenure would be given to teachers whose student scores improve during the school year, and tenure would be taken away when scores decline in two straight years.

Notable progressive bills defeated:

  • Paid Sick Days:  HB 1397 would have required employers to provide accrued paid sick leave to its employees put didn't make it out of the House.
  • Anti-Discrimination Law:  HB 1269 would have increased the state’s anti-discrimination remedies to match those at the federal level, as well as provided attorneys fees and damages to people who prevail in employment discrimination cases.

Resources:
The Bell Policy Center
Progress Now Colorado
Colorado PIRG
Environment Colorado
Colorado WINS
The Denver Post - Colo. Legislature’s 2010 Session Best Yet for Renewable-Energy
The Denver Post - Colo. Legislative Session Ends in a Scramble Shadowed by Future Education Woes
Denver Business Journal - More on Colorado Legislature’s Last Day
Aurora Sentinel  Legislative Session Wraps with Tenure Bill’s Passage
Fox 31 KVDR, Colorado Politics - As Legislative Session Ends, a Look at What Happened