The Second Regular Session of the 72nd General Assembly was an interrupted, shortened and a budgetarily painful session.

During the shortened session, the Colorado Senior Lobby (CSL) took official positions on 56 bills: 28 supported, 5 strongly supported, 1 support if amended, 1 opposed, and 21 monitor or neutral. CSL’s Legislative Committee actively monitored or lobbied these bills, including seeking specific amendments to the bills where appropriate and providing input to legislative sponsors, committees and staff on these and related legislative issues. The CSL’s “Capitol Gang”, in particular, advocated on a regular basis for our positions. The most significant pieces of legislation for Senior Lobby are summarized below.

State Budget Issues

Every year there are challenges in balancing the state budget and the 2020 legislative session was no exception. Actually, this has been an exception. The challenges faced by the state in balancing this year’s budget were unprecedented.

While the FY 2020-21 budget began with an expectation of additional revenue for the eighth year in a row, the appearance and spread of the COVID-19 virus and the subsequent shutdown of the state and the economy in mid-March resulted in a $3.3 BILLION reduction in available revenue compared to the budget the governor submitted in November 2019. The Joint Budget Committee (JBC) met during the month of May and went through multiple stages of budget balancing actions (cuts to program appropriations and transferring moneys from various cash fund balances to the General fund).

No area of the budget, including State Funding for Senior Services, which funds the Area Agencies on Aging, was spared. While the JBC did avoid making direct cuts to the appropriations, the JBC did approve a transfer of $18 million (HB20-1360, HB20-1367, HB20-1387) from the balance in the Older Coloradans Cash Fund. This, of course, negatively affects future funding for the AAA’s. Thus, it is even more important that Colorado AAA’s received $14 million in CARES Act funding this year.

Other reductions include the suspension of a planned $1 million increase in the Senior Dental Program; and approximately $3 million reductions in planned reimbursements to nursing homes and PACE providers. On a positive note, there was a $1 million increase for multimodal transportation options at the Colorado Department of Transportation to offset cuts to transportation services for vulnerable populations, which includes seniors. And, despite much talk early in the process, the legislature was able to balance the budget without suspending the Senior and Disable Veteran Property Tax Exemption.

Summary of Other Legislation

Once the state and the legislative session shut down, almost all attention shifted to the economic and budgetary affects. Most other legislation became secondary. But by the end of the session a number of significant bills did pass.

Older Adults

The Colorado Senior Lobby initiated bill, SB20-022, which is a funded student loan forgiveness program for geriatric advance practice nurses and physician assistants, was postponed due to having a fiscal impact. The following CSL supported bills all passed:

  • SB20-030 – Consumer Protections For Utility Customers – Medical exemptions from tiered electricity rates and
  • SB20-033 – Allow Medicaid Buy-in Program After Age 65 – Expanding Medicaid By-in program to ages 65 and over
  • SB20-200 – Implementation Of CO Colorado Secure Savings Program – Providing for the creation of a state-facilitated automatic enrollment individual retirement account program for workplaces that do not offer a retirement plan
  • HB20-1302 – CAPS Check Program Changes – Making improvements to the Colorado Adult Protective Services (CAPS) background check program
  • Link to find details on these bills – CLICK HERE

Housing

This was another extremely busy year for affordable housing legislation, especially “renter’s protection” bills. And these Colorado Senior Lobby supported bills took on an additional sense of urgency after the pandemic and the shutdown. All the bills, except HB20-1141 and HB20-1351, passed.

  • HB20-1009 – Suppressing Court Records Of Eviction Proceedings – Requiring a court to suppress court eviction records if the eviction is not granted
  • HB20-1196 – Mobile Home Park Act Updates – Amendments to the Mobile Home Park Act
  • HB20-1201 – Mobile Home Park Residents Opportunity To Purchase – Providing an opportunity for mobile homeowners to purchase a mobile home park
  • HB20-1332 – Prohibit Housing Discrimination Source Of Income – Prohibiting refusal to rent based on a person’s source of income
  • HB20-1141 – Fees Charged To Tenants By Landlords – Restrictions on fees landlords can charge)
  • HB20-1351 – Local Government Authority Promote Affordable Housing Units – Clarifying existing authority of local governments to promote affordable housing units
  • Link to find details on these bills – CLICK HERE

Additional Legislation Passed During Final Session

Here are more notable bills with affects to older adults (CSL did not have positions on these):

  • SB20-205 – Sick Leave For Employees – Requires Colorado employers to provide paid sick leave, accrued at one hour for every 30 hours worked, up to 48 hours.
  • SB20-215 – Health Insurance Affordability Enterprise – Extends the reinsurance program – created last year for five years and assesses a fee on health insurance carriers. The goal of the bill is to save people money on premiums and provide coverage for those who can’t afford it.
  • SB20-212 – Reimbursement For Telehealth Services – Expands telehealth services beyond the COVID-19 pandemic by requiring Medicaid reimbursement rates on par with in-person health services.
  • Link to find details on these bills – CLICK HERE

COVID-19 Relief Bills:

In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the legislature passed a package of bills to address many of the issues the state was facing. These bills allocated $75 million of federal CARES Act dollars to address housing assistance, including eviction defense (HB 20-1410), funds for behavioral health (HB 20-1411), and assistance with utility bills (HB 20-1412).

Fiscal Policy:

A common theme at the Capitol even before Coronavirus hit was trying to find creative ways to raise revenue and prioritize spending. Once the economy slowed because of Coronavirus, these measures took on more urgency. By the end of the session, the legislature had addressed a variety of fiscal issues:

  • Gallagher Amendment – The state’s property tax limitation, approved by the voters in 1982, will be placed on the ballot for the voters to consider repealing in 2020.  If repealed by the voters, taxes would not increase immediately, but residential and commercial property tax assessment rates would be fixed. This passed with bipartisan support and greater than two-thirds support in both chambers.
  • Tax Policy – HB20-1420 eliminates certain tax benefits for larger businesses and corporations, and high-income individuals with revenues generated going to the State Education Fund. The bill was significantly amended and remaining portions will decouple Colorado from Federal tax policies on selected items and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit.
  • Tobacco Tax – HB20-1427 – Legislators passed a referendum (HB20-1427) to decide whether to increase the tobacco and nicotine tax and establish a tax on vaping products. The proceeds of the tax will go to preschool programs, rural schools, and tobacco education programs.

Article submitted June 24, 2020
By Jeanette Hensley and Rich Mauro
Colorado Senior Lobby Legislative Committee