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Public Policy Updates

2019 Session Overview & Recap
When the First Regular Session of the 72nd Colorado General Assembly began in January, Colorado had a new Governor in Jared Polis, over 20 new members of the General Assembly, and the Democrats controlled both chambers and the Governor’s office. With unified government, House Speaker K.C. Becker (D-13-Boulder) and Senate President Leroy Garcia (D 03-Pueblo) set forth their agendas for this year’s legislative session. Speaker Becker set out a broad Democratic policy agenda and said we will see measures dealing with gun control, paid family leave, infrastructure funding, additional funding for public education, and bold action to deal with climate change. Senate President Garcia also laid out a new Democratic agenda revolving around investing in higher education, combating the opioid crisis, and lowering the cost of healthcare while increasing access. When Governor Polis gave his vision for the State, he set out to implement free full-day kindergarten for all of Colorado by fall 2019. Governor Polis also wanted to lower healthcare costs with programs like reinsurance and Canadian drug importation. On the business side, Governor Polis said he would support measures to give paid family leave to both public and private sector employees. Addressing climate change was also a central theme for the Governor. He set a goal for Colorado to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 and lead the statewide transition to a clean sustainable, growing economy.
With the agenda set and only 120 days in the legislative session, Democrats set forth to accomplish these ambitious goals. The pace in the months of January and February was slow and despite the lofty and often talked about legislation, many of the big-ticket items had not been formally introduced. That changed late on Friday afternoon March 1st when Senate Democrats introduced SB19-181: Protect Public Welfare Oil and Gas Operations. Democrats then quickly scheduled the bill to be heard in committee the following Tuesday March 5th. The pace of which the Democrats were moving this legislation drew the ire of the oil and gas community as well as Senate Republicans. In an effort to slow the process down, Senate Republicans asked that a 2,000-page bill be read at length. In response, Democrats used 5 computers each reading at over 600 words per minute to accomplish this task in less than a day. In the following days Senate Republicans sued Senate President Leroy Garcia over how the bill was read at length. Ultimately a Judge decided that the manner in which the bill was read violated the constitution because of the incomprehensible speed. This set off a chain of partisan fighting over the next 50 days of the legislative session. By reading bills at length and filibustering for hours, Senate Republicans successfully controlled the pace of the Senate and ultimately made Democrats prioritize what they wanted passed this session.
In the end, Democrats were able to accomplish much of what they laid out in the first few days of session. However, they had to greatly scale back legislation for Paid Family Leave, Local Minimum Wage, and Comprehensive Sexual Education. They were also forced to let legislation related to immunization and rent control die on the calendar. Below is a walk-through of the major legislation that was passed in 2019 by subject, as well as the FY 2019-2020 budget and the interim committees that will be meeting this summer.
Without question, education was a priority this legislative session and because of that the legislature invested over $500 million in K-12 and higher education. The major pieces of education legislation this session included:
  • HB19-1262: State Funding for Full-Day Kindergarten  Beginning with FY 2019-20, this bill provides $182,911,699 in funding to be distributed through the school finance formula for free full-day kindergarten. This bill also held harmless 60 school districts already offering full-day kindergarten and prohibited school districts and charter schools from charging any fees for attending kindergarten that are not routinely charged for students enrolled in other grades. Lastly this bill freed up 5,000 spots in the Colorado Pre-School Program. 
  • SB19-246: Public School Finance  A bi-partisan effort and very favorable budget conditions led to this year’s school finance act. In total, this year’s school finance act came in at $7.4 billion. The bill sets the average per pupil funding at $8,476, which is more than a 4% increase over last year. The bill also includes $100 million to pay down the budget stabilization factor, as well as $20 million for rural districts, $22 million for tier-b funding, and $40 million for the state education fund in the event of a rainy day.
  • HB19-1257 and HB19-1258 This package of bills is a referred measure which, if passed by the voters in November 2019, would allow the state to keep any money they collect over the TABOR limit. That money would be equally distributed to public schools, higher education, and roads, bridges, and transit. The state will be required to appropriate the money for public schools and higher education during the state fiscal year in which the money is credited to the account, with the exception of the first two years. Of the money that is allocated for roads, bridges, and transit, 60% will go to the state highway fund, 22% will go to counties, and 18% to cities and incorporated towns.
  • SB19-199: READ Act Despite a significant investment in the READ Act the last several years, lawmakers have not seen a significant improvement in reading proficiency. This bill increases the reporting on how READ Act money is spent and requires the Department of Education to study and put in place evidence-based practices and training aimed at meaningfully increasing literacy levels in the state.
  • HB19-1194: School Discipline for Preschool Through Second Grade Under this bill, a school district, charter school, or state funded preschool may only suspend or expel a student in preschool through second grade if the school determines that the following conditions are met: the student engages in conduct that involves possession of a deadly weapon; the use, possession, or sale of a controlled substance; or endangers the health and safety of others; failure to remove the student would create a safety threat; and the school has considered certain factors before suspending the student and documents appropriate alternative behavioral and disciplinary interventions that were utilized prior to the suspension. If these conditions are met and a school imposes a suspension, the suspension may not exceed three school days, unless a school executive or their designee determines that a longer suspension is necessary to resolve the safety threat pursuant to procedures in current law.
  • HB19-1032: Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education This was one of the bills Democrats were forced to severely cut back in order for it to pass. What was left is a bill that restates what is in current law but adds in language about teaching consent.
  • HB19-1192: Inclusion of American Minorities in Teaching Civil Government Under current law, Colorado's public schools are required to teach the history and civil government of the United States and of Colorado, including the history, culture and contributions of American Indians, Hispanic Americans, and African Americans. This bill requires that schools also teach the history, culture, and contributions of Asian Americans, and the interconnected nature of these communities.
  • Charter Schools: This year’s long bill included a line item for CSI Mill Levy Equalization. The bill covered a total appropriation of $14 million, of which $7 million is general fund and $14 million is re-appropriated funds.
  • Education Leadership Council: The long bill included an increase of $4.5 million total funds in one-time funding to support educator talent recruitment, retention, and professional development. The increase includes an appropriation of $3.0 million to the Retaining Teachers Fund created in HB18-1412. Additionally, the long bill provided $3.0 million in ongoing funding to expand the Career Development Success Program to pay incentives for participating school districts and charter schools that encourage high school students to complete a qualified workforce program and $1.5 million in one-time funding to provide professional development for career counselors.
  • Higher Education: This year, the Governor and the Legislature included $121 million in the long bill to hold tuition flat at state institutions of higher education.
  • SB19-085: Equal Pay for Equal Work Act This bill, which will take effect in 2021, modifies wage discrimination laws and creates new provisions regarding transparency in wages and promotions. Employers will also be required to publicly post job openings with estimated salaries and are prohibited from asking about salary history. Lastly, employees will now be able to sue over wage discrepancies and collect up to three years of back pay.
  • HB19-1210: Local Government Minimum Wage This bill will allow 10% of the local governments in Colorado to set their own minimum wage at or above the state’s minimum wage, which is set to increase to $12 an hour in January.
  • SB19-188: FAMLI This is another bill that Democrats had to severely limit despite the best efforts of the Senate sponsors. Ultimately this bill was turned into a study so data can be collected to determine what FAMLI leave program best suits Colorado.
  • SB19-103: Legalizing Minors' Businesses This bill prohibits a local government from requiring a license or permit for a business that is occasionally operated by a minor and is located a sufficient distance from a commercial entity.
  • HB19-1025: Limits on Job Applicants Criminal History Inquiry This bill prohibits an employer from stating in a job posting, or on any form of application, that a person with a criminal history may not apply. It also prohibits an employer from inquiring into or requiring disclosure of an applicant's criminal history on an initial application.
  • SB19-181: Protect Public Welfare Oil and Gas Operations This was a high priority bill for Democrats this session. The bill modifies the composition and the regulatory charge of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) by requiring them to protect public health and safety. It also expands the regulatory charge of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) by having them adopt rules to minimize emissions of methane and other hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, and to regulate air pollution from oil and gas facilities during all segments of the oil and natural gas supply chain. This bill imposes new requirements on oil and gas operators, and perhaps most importantly provides additional regulatory authority over oil and gas operations to local governments.
  • SB19-236: Sunset of the Public Utilities Commission While some sunset bills are simple reauthorizations, others like this, create extensive policy changes. This bill requires the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to consider the cost of carbon when evaluating future energy projects. It also deals with distributed resource planning and sets the template for Xcel Energy to move forward with its goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2030 and have zero carbon emissions by 2050. House sponsors also added in securitization language that will allow utilities in front of the PUC to issue energy impact bonds when they are closing electric generating facilities before their useful life is up.
  • HB19-1261: Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution Focusing on a goal of the legislature and Governor Polis, this bill sets statewide greenhouse gas pollution (GHG) reduction goals relative to 2005 statewide GHG pollution levels as follows: 26 percent reduction by 2025; 50 percent reduction by 2030; and 90 percent reduction by 2050.
  • HB19-1174: Out of Network Health Services The bill requires health care providers, facilities, and health insurance carriers to provide disclosures to consumers about the potential effects of receiving services from an out-of-network provider or at an out-of-network facility. The bill establishes reimbursement schedules for out-of-network providers who are providing services at an in-network facility and out-of-network providers of emergency services.
  • HB19-1168: State Innovation Waiver Reinsurance Program The bill authorizes the commissioner of insurance to apply to the secretary of the United States department of health and human services for a state innovation waiver, for federal funding, or both, to allow the state to implement and operate a reinsurance program to assist health insurers in paying high-cost insurance claims. The state cannot implement the program absent a waiver or funding approval from the Secretary of HHS.
  • HB19-1004: Proposal for Affordable Health Coverage Option This bill requires the Departments of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF) and regulatory agencies to develop a proposal for a state option for health care coverage.
State Budget
SB19-207: FY 2019-20 Long Bill  The budget appropriates a total of $31.9 billion in state and federal funds, including funding for new programs, expansion of existing programs, and reductions to, or elimination of, existing programs.  Several departments saw sharp increases in General Fund appropriations, demonstrating a growing reliance on state dollars to fund core government functions.
Based on the March 15th revenue forecast Legislative Council staff forecasted that the General Assembly will have $1.18 billion, or 9.5%, more to spend or save in the General Fund than what was budgeted for FY 2018-19. This amount assumes current law and is largely attributable to the FY 2018-19 excess reserve carrying into the FY 2019-20 beginning balance, year-over-year growth in General Fund revenue, and smaller transfers from the General Fund in FY 2019-20. However, relative to the December 2018 forecast, General Fund revenue expectations were reduced by $249.4 million on slower expectations for economic activity. Highlights of the FY 2019-2020 budget, compared to the FY 2018-2019 budget, include the following:
  • Health Care Policy and Financing – Increase of $336.3 million total funds (increase of $195.0 million General Fund);
  • Higher Education – Increase of $302.2 million total funds (increase of $126.1 million General Fund
  • Education – Increase of $79.3 million General Fund;
  • Corrections – Increase of $77.9 million total funds (increase of $75.0 million General Fund);
  • Human Services – Increase of $65.1 million total funds (increase of $29.0 million General Fund); and
  • Transportation – Increase of $336.7 million total funds as well as $100.00 million appropriation included as a part of the deal between Democrat and Republican leadership in the Senate.
  • HB19-1278: Modifications to Uniform Election Code This bill requires counties to locate some drop boxes on higher education campuses and under-served communities. It will also allow preregistered 17-year-olds to participate in primary elections and caucuses if they will be 18 by the date of the next general election. Finally it creates the Local Elections Assistance Cash Fund, to reimburse counties for the one-time purchase of voting equipment necessary to fulfill the requirements of the bill, and allows up to $350,000 in federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds in the Federal Election Assistance Fund to be used for this equipment reimbursement.
2019 Interim Committees
Legislative Interim Committee on School Finance
  • Meeting times and committee members have not been announced yet.
The Pension Review Subcommittee
  • This is a subcommittee of the Pension Review Commission that studies and makes recommendations regarding the Public Employees' Retirement Association (PERA). It will be important this year because of PERA’s returns in 2018 and the automatic adjustment feature that was a part of SB18-200.
Zero Waste and Recycling
  • This committee will study the issues around waste and recycling infrastructure, composting, and public awareness of moving towards zero waste in Colorado.
Energy Interim Committee
  • This committee will study electric grid interconnection, electric vehicle market adoption factors, energy supply and transmission planning, grid security, distributed generation options, energy market transitions, clean energy job creation and the impact to jobs as a result of changing energy markets, climate change policy options, demand-side management, and energy storage policy.
Tax Expenditure Evaluation Interim Study Committee
  • This interim committee will study the evaluations and policy recommendations for state tax expenditures prepared by the Office of the State Auditor in the ongoing Tax Expenditures Compilation Report. The policy recommendations include, among other things, changing or repealing various tax credits.
Investor-Owned Utility Review Interim Study Committee
  • This interim committee will be conducting an ongoing examination of the programs and practices of electric investor-owned utilities (IOUs) in Colorado with a particular focus on issues involving consumer choice and affordability in electric supply including: the IOUs' administration of energy assistance programs and the sufficiency of those programs based on best practices; the IOUs' administration of time-of-day or time-of-use metering programs, including pilot programs; whether an audit of any IOU consumer programs is warranted and, if so, to formulate the document to request the audit; what new or augmented reports an IOU should be required to provide the commission or the General Assembly; and the role of community aggregated choice in the consumer price of energy.
Making Higher Education Attainable Interim Study Committee
  • The policy issues to be studied include the high costs of higher education; college tuition rate-setting; roadblocks to obtaining postsecondary education; and the risks and rewards of postsecondary education.
Prison Population Management Interim Study Committee
  • The policy issues to be studied include strategies to safely reduce the prison population and decrease recidivism, and monitoring prison population reform legislation passed by the General Assembly.