Legislative Year: 2015 Change

Colorado Eyes & Ears »

Tessa Cheek, The Colorado Independent .....

A bipartisan proposal to expand a successful Teen Pregnancy and Dropout Prevention pilot program made it past first base today. The House Finance Committee voted 10-1 in favor of extending the program to  Medicaid-eligible teenagers.

“This program provides information about abstinence, contraception, family planning and other choices, like avoiding drugs and alcohol, avoiding peer-pressure — just avoiding unhealthy behavior so they can stay in school, get an education and then have more opportunities down the road,” said Rep. Danielson, D-Westminster, who is co-sponsoring the measure with Rep. Don Coram, R- Montrose.

Coram, who has been a major supporter of the pilot programs in and around his district, noted that, of the 140 participants in Montrose, just one became pregnant — and that student was able to stay in school.

“Frankly Mesa, Montrose and Delta counties aren’t the only places in the state where teens are having sex,” Coram told the committee. “So, yes, I’d say it [our success] can be replicated statewide.”

He wants the legislature to pay for the program out of the General Fund. The pilot programs have been funded largely by federal money with a 10 percent local match.

“That match is something they may not be able to afford,” said Coram. “If you look at Delta county in particular, they just lost 400 coal mining jobs and those are $100,000 jobs. That community is definitely feeling the hit of the economy and this would be a huge benefit for that county.”

The sponsors also pointed to a fiscal note that projects savings of $7,559 per Medicaid pregnancy avoided, which would translate to more than $1 million in the first full year of the expanded program.

“I just want you all to really consider the Medicaid costs, the Women Infants and Children costs, the graduation rates and the result to our economy that can occur if we can prevent these pregnancies,” said  Corrine Rivera-Fowler of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights. Rivera-Fowler added that expanding the program is particularly important to her organization as rates of teen pregnancies among Latinas in Colorado continue to be three times as high as those among white teens and twice as high as among black teens.

Rivera-Fowler was a teen mom. She now has a 20-year old attending the University of Colorado – Boulder. Her voice wavered as she told the committee how helpful these resources would have been when she and her best friend both became pregnant in high school.

“No one was talking to either one of us, providing support, counseling or information about our sexual activity, our options for contraception, or the barriers or consequences we would face,” she said. “I chose to have my child. I persevered. I made choices about the path I took and had to work much harder than my peers to get there. I know that if we had access to counseling, information and contraception we may have made other choices and had different paths.“

Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-Fountain, underlined the strong case the witnesses made for the program.

“We’ve talked a lot about the financial savings this program ultimately brings,” she said . “I think we saw here that more important is the emotional, life-long difference this program can make in people’s lives.”

House puts Palcohol in time-out (12:30 p.m.)

The House gave initial approval to a Republican measure to ban powdered alcohol in the state, pending regulations. HB 1031 has received strong support, despite concerns from libertarian-minded Coloradans asking: “What is powdered alcohol and why does the government want to keep it from us?”

Sponsor Rep. JoAnn Windholz, R-Commerce City, emphasized that the bill would only put powdered alcohol, or Palcohol, in a “time-out” until state guidelines regulating its sale could be put in place.

“This is not an anti-free market bill; this is a health and safety bill,” she said on the floor.

“State Affairs was happy to get this bill, we were very supportive of it. It’s a good public safety bill,” agreed Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, the vice-chair of the committee where the measure passed 9-2.

The inventor of Palcohol, Mark Phillips, has written that he is disappointed that no state legislature considering a ban invited him to provide testimony about how the product works. Five states have already banned Palcohol and three more states, in addition to Colorado, may follow suit.

“The responsible action by a legislature should be to regulate powdered alcohol to keep it out of the hands of underage drinkers by having it sold in licensed liquor stores where a person must present a valid ID,” Phillips argues on his site.  He even made the following video to serve as pan-state legislative testimony:

The bill will get a final vote in the House tomorrow before moving to the Senate.

The Colorado Independent, Tessa Cheek

Inspired by the words of a constituent, Charles Selsberg, who was dying of ALS and wished to chose the terms of his departure, Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, today introduced a bill to legalize aid in dying in Colorado.

"As Coloradans we value our freedom to make our own decisions. Shouldn't our freedom to chose how we die be one of those?" asked Rep. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, who is co-sponsoring the measure.

The bill aims to thread the needle on the complex issue of end-of-life autonomy. A patient must have two doctors confirm that their illness is terminal and that it will result in their death in no more than six months. Both physicians must also confirm that the patient is of sound mind and not under coercion. The patient must request the life-ending prescription both verbally and in writing, with a mandated waiting period of 15 days between requests. At least one of the two witnesses to the written request must be completely unaffiliated with the patient. Finally, the patient must be able to take the medication themselves, no one can assist.

"These people are not suicidal, their disease is going to kill them. They want to choose the what, the where, the when and the with whom," said Court. "It's also really important to understand this is totally voluntary. No one, not physician, not pharmacist, not caregiver, not patient, has to do this." 

Five other states have legalized aid in dying — Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana and New Mexico. Twelve other states are considering similar legislation this year.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are both felonies in Colorado and the sponsors were careful to be clear about what their bill would and would not do. If a patient has lost the power of speech or is in a coma, for example, they would not be a candidate.

"Frankly we can't go that far that fast and that's really the bottom line," said Court, adding that her bill is based on a law which has worked successfully in Oregon for nearly two decades.

So far the bill does not have any official Republican co-sponsors, though a survey commissioned by Compassion and Choices, the national advocacy group for this legislation, found that some 60 percent of Coloradans support the idea. That survey, conducted by the left-leaning Strategies 360, also found 55 percent of Colorado Christians in favor. The survey had a +/- 4% margin of error.

Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, who is also a pastor, spoke to the issue of faith while introducing herself as the senate sponsor of the bill. 

"Nothing is more sacred than to have freedom of choice at this time," she said.

Senate supports health exchange audit, more goverment oversight

They didn't need to debate it. Today the Senate voted briskly and unanimously to pass SB 19, authorizing the state auditor to do a comprehensive review of the state's health exchange, Connect for Health Colorado. If passed in the House and signed, SB 19 will allow the state auditor to do a deep investigation of the exchange's operations — from how Coloradans qualify for subsidized insurance to how the exchange website functions.

Though senate Democrats not only voted for, but signed on as co-sponsors of, the audit bill, they were somewhat more divided on a complementary measure. SB 52, sponsored by Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, would give the Legislative Oversight Committee the ability to review exchange staff bonuses.

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, who served on the oversight committee passionately advocated for SB 52 on the floor.

"What role should the Legislative Oversight Committee have in something the state has invested heavily in, has compelled our citizens to engage with and clearly, in real-time today, is not working?" Roberts asked, adding that during her tenure on the committee she "never felt heard."

Minority Leader Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Denver, said her caucus could offer strong support for the comprehensive audit, but she opposed SB 52's move to give the legislature a say in whether or not exchange staff deserve bonuses.

When the legislature set up the exchange, Carroll noted, they worked with the business community and chose not a federally or state-run exchange but an "enterprise" model, which is legally much closer to a private business.

"If we start to add an increased government role [to the exchange], we threaten whether this meets the criteria of TABOR enterprise," Carroll said. 

The bonus review measure still passed with some bipartisan support and it now heads to the House, where we will likely find out more about what a TABOR enterprise is/ does. 

update: Some helpful TABOR context from the ever-helpful Carol Hedges at Colorado Fiscal Institute: "If the Exchange were to lose its Enterprise status, all the fees it collects would count toward the state's TABOR limit, meaning higher TABOR refunds and if the Exchange were to increase its charges, it might have to have a vote."




From The Colorado Independent, Tessa Cheek.....

Adjunct professors come out in force for workforce bill, to no avail

Sen. John Kefalas's SB 94 went down on a party line vote in Senate state affairs today. The bill would have required community colleges to classify adjunct professors as "faculty" instead of "instructors" — a distinction that impacts salary, benefit, job security, and institutiona governance. Though Kefalas proposed several amendments to reduce, or at least space-out, the $97 million price tag, the measure ultimately failed 3-2, with cost and government overreach being the major concerns for the Republicans who voted against the measure.

Kefalas concluded that the journey will continue on this issue, which drew robust civic input from adjunct instructors at community colleges across the state. Though the majority have the same training and professional credentials as their tenured counterparts, these adjuncts earn on average $1,834 per three-credit-hour course and often less than $20,000 a year.

Today's bill marked Kefalas's second effort to address labor complaints amongst adjunct professors in Colorado.

"There’s clearly a lot more attention being given to adjunct faculty nationally. There are some national folks looking at our humble efforts here," Kefalas said. "What I’m realizing is that chipping away at this two-tiered system, which I think is inherently unfair, that’s a pretty heavy lift."

Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum, M.F.A., was among the adjunct professors who testified at today's hearing. He teaches english and creative writing and said he works an average of 60 to 80 hours a week between four schools. Like 61 percent of adjunct instructors at Colorado community colleges, McFayden-Ketchum also has another job entirely outside the academy.

"You really can’t survive on these wages," he said. "The only way is if you teach so much that your teaching becomes a joke — a lot of adjuncts I know teach 10 classes a semester... a tenured professor teaches two."

Like many others who came to testify today, McFadyen-Ketchum said the adjunct labor issue goes beyond salary alone. He noted that adjuncts have "zero" job security and recounted an experience last year in which the University of Colorado Denver cut both his classes 18 days before the semester started.

As testimony wrapped up and with the bill's fiscal note the clear point of contention, Sen. Matt Jones, D- Louisville, summarized his support for the doomed measure with the following:

"We’re balancing the state budget on the back of middle class college instructors."

In-state tuition for CO natives passes on party lines

After hours of impassioned testimony, lawmakers on the House Education Committee were divided along partisan lines about whether members of the 48 American Indian tribes with historic ties to Colorado should be granted in-state tuition. The measure, which is estimated to cost $2.6 million, passed 6-5 and now heads to the appropriations committee.

Professor David Weiden, teaches political and native american studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver and is an enrolled member of the Lakota Sioux. He testified in favor of the bill and pushed back against the predicted costs of the program. In particular he emphasized that the cost of the program has been estimated based on enrollments of self-identified American Indians. Because the bill itself specifies that only enrolled members would qualify, Dr. Weiden posited that the cost could be reduced by up to half.

In addition to the specifics of who the bill would apply to reducing the cost, Weiden also argued that increased enrollment in Colorado public universities would bring added revenue to the system.

Roland Zephyr, a U.S. Navy veteran and member of the Lakota Sioux on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, but with historic ties to Colorado, also testified in favor of the bill. Zephyr noted that as a veteran he was granted in-state tuition in Colorado, which kickstarted his education at the University of Colorado Denver. Like veterans, Zephyr argued, the peoples indigenous to Colorado made sacrifices that allowed the state and nation to survive — only they weren't voluntary.

"You have this moral obligation to justify some of the injustices of the past," he told lawmakers.

Kindergarten heads towards fiscal cliff

After members of the Education Committee expressed deep concern about the fiscal note on Rep. Wilson's kindergarten bill, they did go ahead and pass it. In part, Wilson's argument hinged on the flexibility kindergarten funding would offer schools — namely that it would allow them to spend current money directed to the issue on other programs such as preschool.

A few of these education bills are modified repeat efforts, including a proposal by Rep. Jim Wilson, R- Salida, to fully fund kindergarten statewide and a bill from Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, that would offer in-state tuition to members of American Indian tribes with historic ties to Colorado.

Both measures hit snags last year over their price tags. This year, Wilson's proposal to count kindergarteners as full students, as opposed to half, under the state's public school funding formula is estimated to cost $236 million. That's a big jump from last year's estimated price tag, which hovered around $170 million.

Though Salazar's measure had decent bipartisan support when it passed in the House last year, it too ran into funding problems and never made it to the governor's desk. This year, however, the fiscal note appears to have been cut in half, down from an estimated $5 million to $2.6 million.

Other measures going before the House Education Committee today include two efforts from Rep.Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, to increase access to preschool and a proposal from Rep. Kim Ransom, R-Littleton, to change the legal dropout age from 17 to 16. 

Senate-side, Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, has an education bill headed to the state affairs committee that would require community colleges to treat adjunct professors as "faculty" instead of "instructors." That reclassification would entitle adjuncts to a host of benefits ranging from due process in firings, to higher pay, better benefits and a voice in faculty governance. It's also expected to cost $97 million, though Kefalas promises he has a few amendments to bring down the cost.

 Tessa Cheek, The Colorado Independent


The 2014 election produced some surprises that, when examining trends, probably shouldn’t be surprising at all.  Underneath the mass of mail and tv ads, below the paucity of effective messaging, four factors framed the 2014 election tale in Colorado: unaffiliated voter registration, mail-in ballots, campaign finance, and no-show Democratic men.

With Unaffiliateds as the largest and fastest growing “party” in the state, unaffiliated voters had a huge impact on the small numbers that separated wins and losses. In 2012, one Senate race and one House race were decided by less than 3% of voters.  In 2014, six Senate seats and six House seats were won and lost by less than 3%.

Dems took eye off Adams County, low turnout stomped incumbents

Voters expressed deep dissatisfaction with the status quo in Adams County. SD-24, a Democratic Senate seat, flipped Republican by 876 votes, or 1.7%.  Beth Martinez-Humenik’s victory over Rep. Judy Solano-D, along with two Republican victories in Jefferson County, turned the state Senate over.

Two shoe-in Adams County House seats were not shoe-ins.  Rep. Joseph Salazar-D, who won by a 20% landslide in 2012, eked out a 216 vote victory in HD-31.  Rep. Jenise May-D, who won her seat by 15% in 2012, lost by 110 votes, or .58%. 

Unaffiliated voters breaking in right and left directions in races across state

In the Adams County races, Unaffiliated voters switched to the Republican side in large numbers, powering the two victories and the near-victory.  Voter turnout was low, 50.94%, compared to 64.17% in neighboring Broomfield County, for example.

In the other direction, Unaffiliateds in SD-59 almost pushed Rep. Mike McLachlan-D across the line he finished in 2012.  McLachlan lost by 206 votes, or .6%.  He almost overcame a 6% registration disadvantage, but Rep. Paul Brown regained the seat he lost in 2012.

Meanwhile, Kerry Donovan-D, who had a 4% registration deficit in SD-5 to her opponent Don Suppes-R, won when 40% of unaffiliated voters up in the mountains broke in her direction.  She also won despite low voter turnout in two core Democratic counties: Summit at 45.48% and Pitkin at 50.84%.

Mail-in ballots favored GOP, pushing Dem get-out-the-vote in too many places

Republicans complained about changes to election law that called for an all mail-in ballot.  Don’t know why.  The Republican mail-ins poured into County Clerk offices, overwhelming Democrats.  Last minute scrambling helped the Andy Kerr and Cheri Jahn campaigns in Jeffco, but mail-in was a big benefit to Tim Neville, Laura Woods, and Martinez-Humenik, all Republicans.

GOP money strategy may tie newly elected legs tight to party line

Republicans played their money hand smartly.  Ryan Call, chair of the state Republican party, chafed over the party’s losses in 2012.  This year, he played a semi-stealth campaign finance game that got GOP candidates with practically no easily-identified money across the goal line. 

Republicans established a party Super PAC that allowed them to raise money without identifying donors.  Call knew the big numbers Democrats could put up from elections in 2010 and 2012.  So while Democratic candidates scrambled to raise millions from thousands of people, the Republican party gathered funds for its candidates from unidentified donors.  Senate President Bill Cadman, R-CO Spgs, can take credit for spending his big dollars strategically. 

Rep. Solano-D in Adams County raised $146,000 to victorious Martinez-Humenik’s-R $23,000.  Cadman’s investment put Martinez-Humenik over the top, even if it wasn’t a landslide.

In Jefferson County, Democrats knocked themselves out raising money:  Sen. Andy Kerr-D at $210,000 to Tony Sanchez’s-R $86,000; Sen. Cheri Jahn at $178,000 to Larry Queen’s $33,000; Sen. Jeanne Nicholson-D at $241,000 to Tim Neville’s –R $130,000;  and Sen. Rachel Zenzinger-D at $239,000 to Woods’-R $116,000.  Only Kerr and Jahn won, Kerr by 2% and Jahn by an itty bitty .58%.

Dems got women to vote, but men didn't come to the dance

Democratic men did not come to this election party.  With 1,749,568 votes in at 5pm election night, Democratic women were at 332,815 votes v Democratic men at 226,002, a 106,813 difference.  Both unaffiliated men and Republican men voted at a higher rate than women by about 20,000 total ballots.  The difference between Democratic and Republican women was 5628 out of 670,861, or .0083%. 

Both parties have long term registration problems as younger voters take independent stand

Long term implications of this election are evident.  The parties are losing and gaining influence at the same time.  That is, both Democrats and Republicans are losing registration to unaffiliateds, with the GOP losing at a higher rate. 

But with Republicans starting to take over candidate campaign funding, those winning candidates will owe a lot to the party.  So if unaffiliateds want the parties to work more closely, but candidates are more tightly hooked to the parties, the forces are working in opposite directions.

Republicans benefited from mail-in ballots, at least in this mid term.  They sent Democrats scrambling in many different directions to get enough votes in, but with Democratic men sitting on their stamps, that GOTV effort became grueling.  The pressure caused the Dems to focus on their Jeffco Senate candidates, pushing turnout to 62% while missing Adams County with turnout at 51%.

Democrats will have a tough time if they can’t talk more firmly and persuasively to Democratic men, which begs the question as to whether Dems have a message for Democratic men.  With so much focus on women’s reproductive rights, and so little attention on jobs, the guys took a pass.  If both parties don’t pay attention to making themselves more relevant to more voters, the whole system can implode.  The numbers are doing the talking on that trend.

September 13 changed the paths of the South Platte River and the creeks along the northern front of the Rockies that feed the river. Now the state wants to know if the epic flood finally knocked out non native salt cedar, or tamarisk, and Russian olive trees that have been out-competing native cotton woods along the river and creek beds.
These non native, weedy trees are water suckers. They grow in dense stands and their roots go deep down, taking up water from the water table that otherwise could go to agriculture and municipal uses.
Weed managers, weed scientists from CSU, and state ag researchers want to know how the South Platte flood affected dispersion of these shrubby, stringy, dusty plants in the flood zone. 
The researchers hope the flood wiped out the invasive plants, but they worry that the tree weeds, aka phreatophytes which thrive in dry climates along creeks and rivers, will further drive out native cotton woods and other benign vegetation.
For about $150,000, CSU, with funds from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, will find out whether the state will have to use more tamarisk beetles and/or herbicides to get rid of the pests. Based on over 40 years of weed work by the US Bureau of Reclamation, bets go to the salt cedar.  
The Platte River Phreatophyte Study, SB14-195 with bipartisan Senate sponsorship, passed Senate Local Government on a 6-1 vote, with Sen. Gail Schwartz from Aspen voting NO. 
HB14-1009 takes on fire mitigation
Fires raging last year across the front range prompted the Wildfire Matters Review Committee to recommend giving property owners a tax credit rather than a tax deduction for fire mitigation.
The change ups the ante to encourage property owners to get serious about clearing brush, changing roofing materials, and swapping wood decks for composite materials.  
Property owners submitted $1.2 million in fire mitigation tax deductions in 2012, according to the Department of Revenue, representing a little more than $800 per return, on average.  The credit ratchets up the tax break to a maximum credit of $2500 per year, with five years of carry-over.
According to testimony, new developments will face stricter zoning rules on roofs, decks, vents, and spaces between forests and homes. Development growth may go up by 300 percent over 15 years.  
Rivers moving, fires burning, tamarisk growing, Russian olives spreading.  That's the new Colorado.  
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