Oil and gas says thanks — After taking a battering in Gov. Jared Polis’ first year, the industry went unscathed in the 2020 General Assembly, other than future fees on air polluters to establish real-time local air-monitoring. Compared to last session and despite the saber-rattling from Democrats, the industry will take this session as a win. Rocked by low international commodity prices and an economic collapse, however, oil and gas was happy to sit outside the target zone, and wain on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission continues to pass new rules. Environmental groups also say they won’t try to get any new rules on the industry on the ballot this year, either.
Majority muscle — The pandemic provided an opportunity for Democratic majorities in the House and Senate to flex their legislative muscle in the truncated session, making deep inroads on health care, tax policy, police reform and school immunizations. The party holds a safe majority, 41-24, in the House, and the Senate offers too few options for the Republicans to overthrow Democrats’ 19-16 majority there. This session was a political freebie for the left, while attention was focused outside the Capitol.
Herod marches on — Like Michael Jordan routinely scoring 40 a night in his prime, it’s notable when one of state Rep. Leslie Herod’s bills doesn't land on the governor’s desk. She put another pile there this year: 16 new laws out of 68 in four years, including sponsoring this year's major police reform bill, and separate pieces of legislation to prevent discrimination — against culturally significant hairstyles, in housing and against transgender people. She sponsored legislation requiring insurers to cover infertility treatments, making HIV prevention drugs available without a prescription, managing prison population and reducing substance use disorders. With a statehouse track record like hers, there must be a line out Herod's office door to land her as a cosponsor.
A mid-August conversation led Rep. Leslie Herod to first start putting down ideas for SB217, the police reform bill. But it was the daily protests since late May that gave it urgency — and near unanimous support. Colorado Politics provides the back story.
Hospitals and insurance companies — Health care managed to be both a big winner and a big loser. The public option insurance program to offer below-market insurance rates was tabled when it became evident the pandemic sunk its chances. On the other hand, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 215 to refinance the state's reinsurance program for high-cost patients. Hospitals were slated to pay a $40 million fee on or after July 1. The bill delayed the first payment for a year and cut it in half for following years. Fees on health insurers, however, will more than make up the difference. Nonprofit insurers (Kaiser and Elevate, an insurer at Denver Health) must pay a fee based on 1.15% of premiums. For-profit insurers face 2.15%. Insurers cried foul, claiming it would generate far more money than necessary. They appear to right: Budget analysts said the proposal could bring in $94.9 million next year to cover a program that cost an estimated $60 million last year.
Businesses pony up — As lawmakers sought to backfill more than $3 billion lost to the pandemic, they followed the lead of bank robber Slick Willie Sutton and went where the money was. The second half of the legislative session had a laser focus on finding new ways to raise revenue, and that meant the business community, which had carried a heavy tax burden already because of the Gallagher Amendment suppressing residential rates in Colorado (voters could change that in November). Lawmakers removed tax breaks allegedly affecting only the rich, while adding requirements about paid sick leave and unemployment insurance, adding time and money from small businesses trying to recover.
Polis pummeled — The former congressman and tech millionaire from Boulder got a bitter taste of bad luck for a change, when the pandemic roiled his nation-leading economy. With it went billions of dollars Polis needs to power his progressive agenda and move the state toward 100% renewable energy, tackling high health care costs and putting more money into his pet project, K-12 education. For his trouble, the governor has drawn criticism and a lawsuit from scores of business groups challenging him on his crisis authority to change election law, some of the same business leaders smarting from the high price they’ll pay to get the state back on its feet.
Bullies and jerks — If someone assaults a transgender person in Colorado, they can’t use panic as a defense anymore, because of Senate Bill 221. Rep. Brianne Titone of Arvada, the state’s first transgender lawmaker, took two runs at the bill before the second passed the House 63-1 and the Senate 35-0. The American Bar Association unanimously approved a resolution calling for a ban on the defense in 2013. Colorado joins California, Illinois, Rhode Island, Nevada, Connecticut, Maine, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey and Washington with bans.
Child sex abuse victims — Because the General Assembly failed to eliminate the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse in 2006, victims have been constrained by Colorado’s tight litigation window for 14 years. Now, they will have to wait at least one year longer. Even though the prospect of a stronger bill remains for next session, the victims of sex assault who tearfully gave testimony in support of the bill in committee — and the unknown number of survivors who could not speak publicly — once again are left wanting. With the sponsors’ decision to exclude a “lookback window” to revive decades-old abuse cases for litigation, the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts and other organizations dodged a potentially massive liability.
Bad cops — Local governments will have to spend time and money to retrain officers on new protocols and equip them with body-worn cameras if they do not already. While some law enforcement representatives and their allies worried about the effect that the additional scrutiny would have on recruiting new officers to the profession, the “bad apples” will likely have a tougher time keeping their jobs. With the removal of immunity, individual officers may have to pay victims personally, up to $25,000, for improper use of force; depending on how often those claims are successful, prospective recruits might think twice about entering the profession.
There were speeches of jubilation, gratitude and even anger Friday, as Colorado became the first state in the nation to act on police reform in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.