Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan

Lobby data arrived and it’s now possible to see which organizations are promoting bills in this year’s General Assembly. As always, it’s a motley lot sometimes creating strange bedfellows.

Interpreting lobby data is a challenge. The data focuses on the lobbyist. Lobbyists must report their clients, payments by client, bills and positions tracked by clients. The system does not go in the other direction, requiring clients, such as associations, to report on the bills they’re tracking along with their positions, their hired lobbyists, and dollars paid to lobbyists. This data is probably available if the Secretary of State pulled it from lobby reporting.

Health bills are a good example. Of the first ten House bills introduced, health and health insurance are the subjects of four, and of the first ten bills in the Senate, three relate to health and health insurance.

HB19-1001 on hospital expense transparency has 104 individual organizations actively tracking the bill. HB-19-1004 on implementing a competitive state option for affordable health care has 78 organizations. HB19-1009 on substance use recovery has 55 tracking entities, and HB19-1010 on freestanding emergency department licensing has 35 entities tracking the bill. Many associations are tracking all four bills.

Certain lobby enterprises dominate this policy area. Aponte Public Affairs; Axiom Strategies; Politicalworks; Brandeberry McKenna; Frontline Public Affairs; Colorado Legislative Services; Nexus Policy Group; Morrison, Love, and Young Public Affairs have their fingers in the four bills. There’s remarkable consensus among the players. Of all the entities lobbying these bills, only one opposes one of the bills, HB19-1004: Colorado Rising Action, a 501-C4 two-person shop led by Michael Fields, formerly of Americans for Prosperity.

At least in Colorado it looks like the state has achieved consensus on the direction of health care. The Colorado Hospital Association, Colorado Competitive Council, and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan are monitoring HB19-1004 for an affordable health care option. The Colorado Medical Society, AARP, Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, and Colorado Rural Health Center support the bill. Fifty years ago, some organizations might have labeled HB19-1004 as a “nose under the tent” for socialized medicine. Health care insurance didn’t take up a Rolls Royce car payment’s worth of income in those days.

A bill up this week in the state Senate shows some strange bedfellows. SB19-101 is a managed lanes transportation construction bill. It requires the Department of Transportation to conduct studies to find alternatives to managed lanes, such as toll roads or high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

This bill brings two frequent competitors together in opposition to the legislation: Conservation Colorado and Colorado Competitive Council. The Colorado Competitive Council advocates for policy that benefits Colorado businesses. Conservation Colorado fights for water, air and land. Business interests argue that the bill will put unfriendly limits on what the state can do to improve its transportation infrastructure. Conservation Colorado sees high occupancy vehicle lanes as an important strategy for reducing traffic and air pollution.

The bill has support from El Paso County that ran and won an initiative to add its own funding for transportation projects. While Colorado Springs voters are generally anti-tax, they apparently oppose managed lanes, either toll roads or HOV, more.

High stakes lobbyists and associations develop and influence high stakes legislation over 90 days of the General Assembly. These groups know each other well. They see each other at the Capitol daily. Those daily encounters affect every Coloradan in some way, not just for days, but for years.

Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.

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