Well, here we are at the halfway (and now actually half time) mark for another Colorado General Assembly session – it started on January 8th and ends May 6th – Or not.
Backing up a little to January at the General Assembly: not a lot typically happens in January as the GA gets into gear; February sees an uptick in activity and occasional bursts of high energy in the air under the dome. This year’s bigger bursts were around the repeal of the death penalty and vaccinations.
Now, in March, we have seen the introduction of two long-expected and highly controversial bills: SB20-200 Implementation of the Colorado Secure Savings Program (which CSL supports), HB20-1349 Colorado Affordable Health Care Option, and – maybe in April – the Family Leave and Medical Program. There may also be action on transportation funding. The air under the dome felt fully charged early in March, but all the air went out of the dome on March 13 with the announcement of the two-week delay hiatus (which could be extended – we don’t know).
The Joint Budget Committee continues to meet and work on the Long Bill, our state’s annual budget bill for fiscal year 2020-2021 beginning July 1st – the key bill that actually MUST pass each year as lawmakers are required to balance the state’s budget. It should be ready for a first look soon. Expectations are that money will be VERY tight – our economic forecasters can only guess at HOW tight under the current circumstances. Suffice it to say that there is NO money for any new programs or ideas and very likely NO money for expanding any existing programs.
The $428 million TABOR rebate, which is based on the 2018-2019 economy, goes on. However, in the next few years, expect a long, continuous, and quite likely excruciating, squeeze on the state’s spending budget. Any formerly forecasted future TABOR surpluses/rebates are now gone.
There are several bills – ones that will cost the state money – that have passed out of various committees and referred to one of the two Appropriations committees. Some have been waiting in either Senate or House Appropriations for several weeks, awaiting the Long Bill – to determine if there is any money to fund them. If there is not, that will likely be the end of them for this year.
There was a flurry of activity in both Appropriations committees on March 13, with many bills referred out to their respective Chambers; where most if not all of them will likely die.
In any event, there will be much discussion about what to spend, or not spend General Fund money on for the next few weeks. These discussions typically become heated at times; although the general mood this year will probably tamp down those emotions.
We typically expect a logjam of bills in April – many new bills introduced on top of a large number of bills that have not worked their way through the process as yet – and less time to give them a hearing (which every bill MUST have). As of March 10th, 593 bills have been introduced. We would normally expect another 100+ in the next few weeks—but even that is uncertain this session.
Senior Lobby has the following bills that we are strongly supporting (meaning we fully commit to testifying and lobbying on them) and here is the status of each:
- HB20-1052 Privacy Protections for Human Services Workers – This bill is likely to be passed and sent to the Governor.
- HB20-1086 Insurance Coverage Mental Health Wellness Exam – This bill passed the House and was amended by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on March 11th.
- HB20-1101 Assisted Living Resident Referrals – This bill has passed in the House and now rests with the full Senate, awaiting that reading in the Committee of the Whole.
- SB20-022 Increase Medical Providers for Senior Citizens – This bill passed unanimously out of Senate Appropriations on March 13th and awaits further action in the full Senate before being sent to the House.
- SB20-033 Allow Medicaid Buy-in Program After Age 65 – This bill was amended by Senate Appropriations on March 6 and referred to the full Senate for further action.
As you can see just from the status of just these few bills, there is much work remaining to be done in the Capitol before the 2020 session ends and those bills that increase state spending are very much in jeopardy.
Once the legislature returns to the Capitol, the days will be getting longer for our legislators, a LOT longer. No matter what you may think of individual legislators, political parties, partisanship, and the like, their jobs are still difficult. Imagine dealing with the often-conflicting interests of the thousands of professional and volunteer lobbyists, constituents, and other interested citizens – and COVID-19 too.
Thank legislators for their work whenever you get a chance, especially if you like the work your particular representative or senator is doing. And if you don’t like their work, be specific in letting them know why. If you don’t let them know how YOU feel, who will?